US Supreme Court enters 21st Century, takes a technological step forward

This file photo taken on June 15, 2017 shows a police officer standing guard on the steps of the US Supreme Court in Washington, DC. (AFP / JIM WATSON)
Updated 10 November 2017
0

US Supreme Court enters 21st Century, takes a technological step forward

WASHINGTON: Surely but slowly, the Supreme Court is entering the 21st century. The court is making new legal filings available online starting Monday, years behind the rest of the federal court system.
Can livestreamed audio of arguments and even televised sessions be far behind? Yes, they can.
But advocates of court openness will take what they can get for now, especially because the Supreme Court will not charge for documents. The federal courts’ PACER system does charge fees.
“Though the Supreme Court has moved glacially to join the rest of the judiciary in permitting online filing, that’s better than not at all, and the institution should be commended for creating an e-filing system that, unlike PACER, will be free and easily accessible to the public,” said Gabe Roth, executive director of Fix the Court.
Over the years, the justices have at times shown a glancing familiarity with technology. Some carry computer tablets with high court briefs loaded on them. But notes between justices are routinely sent on paper, definitely not by email.
Chief Justice John Roberts himself noted a few years back that the court stuck with pneumatic tubes to transmit newly released opinions from the courtroom to reporters waiting one floor below until 1971, long after their heyday.
Roberts said that it’s appropriate for courts “to be late to the harvest of American ingenuity” because their primary role is to resolve disputes fairly.
Many Supreme Court legal briefs already are available online and for free from several sources. Scotusblog.com obtains and posts many of them, along with opinions. The Justice Department has an easily accessible archive of its extensive high court filings on its website, and the American Bar Association posts briefs in the 70 to 80 cases the court agrees to hear each term.
But the public may not know to look elsewhere. When the justices issued their highly anticipated decision upholding President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul in 2012, the court’s website was overwhelmed.
It, too, has recently been overhauled to make it friendlier to the public.
The Supreme Court updates come amid criticism of the PACER system as outmoded and unfair. “The PACER system used by the lower federal courts is hopelessly outdated and cumbersome. And, to add insult to injury, the PACER system charges people fees to access court records that should be made freely available,” said Deepak Gupta, the lead attorney in a class-action lawsuit challenging PACER fees.
The judiciary says the fees provide the only money to pay for the system.
The cost to users was just one among several reasons the court opted not to join the PACER system, court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said.
“The court elected to design its system in-house so that it would have the capability to customize and continuously update to meet the distinctive needs of the court and counsel,” Arberg said.
Until now, lawyers have not been required to submit their filings to the court electronically. Beginning Monday, those documents should appear quickly on the court’s website. People who can’t afford to pay court costs will be allowed to file paper copies, which Supreme Court employees will scan and post online.
Not everything is changing. Lawyers still will be required to submit up to 40 paper copies of every brief, and the court’s color-coding system to distinguish types of briefs also will remain.
There’s no timetable for electronic filings to supplant paper as the official court record.
And there’s also no expectation that the justices will drop their prohibition on cameras in the courtroom anytime soon.
Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who once sounded open to cameras, recently told a New York audience that cameras might detract from the robust exchanges during arguments.
The Supreme Court also refuses to livestream audio of its arguments, even as the federal appeals court just down Capitol Hill recently has allowed live audio access to its hearings. The high court posts transcripts within hours of arguments, but doesn’t release the audio for days.


US judge tosses out Stormy Daniels defamation suit against Trump

Updated 16 October 2018
0

US judge tosses out Stormy Daniels defamation suit against Trump

LOS ANGELES: President Donald Trump scored a legal victory Monday against porn star Stormy Daniels when a federal US judge rejected her defamation suit against him.
Daniels — whose real name is Stephanie Clifford — still has a separate lawsuit against the president linked to $130,000 in hush money she was paid by Trump’s lawyer shortly before the November 2016 presidential election to keep quiet about an alleged affair.
US District Judge S. James Otero in Los Angeles tossed out the defamation suit Daniels filed earlier this year after Trump claimed on Twitter that the adult film actress had invented threats to silence her over her claims the pair slept together more than a decade ago.
“The Court agrees with Mr.Trump’s argument because the tweet in question constitutes ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States,” Otero wrote in his ruling.
“The First Amendment (of the US Constitution) protects this type of rhetorical statement.”
Trump’s lawyer Charles Harder called the ruling a “total victory for President Trump and total defeat for Stormy Daniels.”
Otero ruled that the billionaire Trump is entitled to have his lawyers’ fees paid as part of the ruling.
The amount will be determined later, Harder said.
Daniels’ lawyer Michael Avenatti — who has strongly suggested he is ready to take on Trump in the 2020 elections — later posted on his Twitter account a notice of appeal with the Ninth Circuit court.

Daniels sued after Trump tweeted in April about her release of a sketch of a man she said warned her in a Las Vegas parking lot not to talk about their tryst.
“A sketch years later about a nonexistent man,” Trump tweeted. “A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it!),” Trump tweeted.
The president’s former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in August to campaign finance violations in the form of hush payments during the 2016 campaign to two women who alleged they had affairs with Trump.
He said he had paid them at Trump’s request.
Although Cohen did not name the women, they were believed to be Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal.
Because the hush payments were intended to influence the outcome of the elections, they violated US laws governing campaign contributions, making Trump an — as yet — unindicted co-conspirator.
The president’s story about Cohen’s payments has changed multiple times.
In September, Cohen’s lawyer said that, following the August guilty plea, Cohen provided “critical information” to Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and whether Trump’s campaign colluded.
Separately, Trump was sued for defamation in 2017 by Summer Zervos, who was a contestant on Trump’s former reality TV show “The Apprentice.”
She claims Trump lied when responding to her allegations that he forcibly kissed and groped her in 2007.
US media reported in September that Trump would provide sworn written responses in the case.
jt-ban/it/mdl