Court-System Transparency

Here’s a new law review article of note:

Lynn M. LoPucki, “Court-System Transparency,” 94 Iowa Law Review 481-538 (February 2009).

ABSTRACT: Over the past decade, the federal courts became the world’s most transparent court system by switching from paper to electronic filing, resolving daunting privacy problems, and posting their case files on the Internet. Now they are embarking on a second, equally important transformation–the use of relational forms from which court data can be extracted automatically. This Article describes the technology and seeks to project and evaluate the effects of that second transformation.

If it occurs, the second transformation would create millions of windows into the courts at virtually no cost to the government. Policymakers, litigants, and the public would be able to see and understand the patterns of judicial decisionmaking–who wins what and how often. That would provide policy makers the feedback needed to fine tune the system, lawyers the ability to predict the outcomes of their cases, and the public the ability to see what courts actually do. All could also see whether the precautions they take for supposed legal reasons are the right ones.

Opponents argue that court-record transparency (1) would expose parties and witnesses to the risk of identity theft and other harms, (2) would invade privacy by making previously-difficult-to-obtain public-record information about individuals readily available, and (3) would pressure judges in ways that deprive them of judicial independence. This Article argues that none of those objections is well-founded.

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