From The Editor
Bill Girdner
Story Date:   
9th Circuit on Press Access to Court Records

     It was with great relief that I heard last week that the 9th Circuit had ruled in our favor. It was on a procedural issue but the opinion said a whole lot more.
     In the back of my mind, I always trusted that a federal court would likely see press access to court records as a constitutional issue. And a federal judge in Houston had ruled for Courthouse News on our challenge to the state court clerk there, ordering same-day access to the new actions.
     But our similar challenge to the Ventura clerk hit blizzard-like conditions at oral argument in Pasadena. And I wasn't so sure anymore.
     The challenge had a lot riding on it.
     In the years since a few California courts adopted the clunky Court Case Management System, it was apparent that there was a militancy in court officials about pushing the press back. They believed the public's record was theirs to control as they saw fit.
     At the time, we could only see the outward manifestation of that belief. We were stuck behind the bureaucracy's stone wall, waiting for days and weeks to see written court proceedings.
     By the time we could get to it, a new filing was no longer news. Newspapers walked away from the coverage.
     And there was no compromise from the bureaucrats, no bend, no reason, and at times a sneering dismissal of the role of the press, particularly evident in Orange County, another CCMS court.
     But in the intervening years, I realized there was an ideology behind the militancy.
     I first saw it a few years ago in Sacramento, in the arrogant and hard expression of bureaucrats who had just put CCMS in place and who told us in essence that a written court proceeding wasn't public until they said so.
     And it came into the light for all to see in the new e-filing rules passed by the Judicial Council last year, over the strong objections of CNS, the L.A. Times and the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
     The rules sidled into the notion that a court proceeding is not "official" until it is processed, and therefore not public until then. The rules were formed with the help of Orange County bureaucrats -- adopters of CCMS -- working with the Administrative Office of the Courts -- promoters of CCMS -- and pushed through by state judges leading the technology committee -- defenders of CCMS.
     Just in case one were unfamiliar with the fate of the disastrous software project, it was abandoned in 2012 after wasting a half-billion-dollars in public funds. Those behind the project remain in power.
     In a craven logic, the e-filing rules suggest that a state statute defining a public record as the kind of thing that gets put in a file should be interpreted to mean that a record must be put in a file in order to be considered public.
     So if it takes a couple months to put the new proceeding in a file -- too bad. Such gamesmanship with the words of a well-meaning California statute promoting transparency must be called to account, at some point.
     While the ideology of the CCMS crew was not before the 9th Circuit, its outward manifestation was.
     In Ventura, which also runs the junked software, the clerk refused to let the media see new matters until they were processed, delaying access for days, with individual cases avoiding review for extended periods.
     The brunt of 9th Circuit Judge Kim Wardlaw's ruling was to say that access to state court records is a First Amendment issue that belongs in federal court, overturning the trial court judge who abstained. But in her opinion, she also rejected the argument that providing prompt press access would put an overwhelming burden on the courts.
     "The Ventura County Superior Court has available a variety of measures to comply with an injunction granting CNS all or part of the relief requested," Wardlaw wrote. "For instance, the court could provide reporters with a key to a room where new complaints are placed in boxes for review before being processed, as does the Los Angeles Division of the U.S. District for the Central District of California.
     "To permit same day access, the Ventura County Superior may not need to do anything more than allow a credentialed reporter -- the same reporter who has been regularly visiting the court for the past twelve years -- to go behind the counter and pick up a stack of papers that already exist."'
     And then, in an unmistakable shot across the bow, the judge added:
     "We also trust that the Ventura County Superior Court would comply with any federal injunction requiring it to make unlimited civil complaints available within a specified time period."
     It will be interesting to see how the the clerk and the administrative office react.
     Will they listen to the 9th Circuit and, as the clerk in Houston listened to Judge Melinda Harmon, and return traditional, same-day access to the press. Or will they continue to bankroll a white-shoe law firm with public money in order to fight press access every step of the way.
     One is the way of a reasonable public official operating in good faith. The other is the way of a bureaucracy imbued with a sense of pride, power and entitlement with little or no compunction about how it wastes public funds.
     I have my guess, but let's see what happens.

 
Coyote Speaks
Robert Kahn
Story Date:   
The Snakes Are Out

     It's going to be a hot summer. Ninety-nine in the shade already in my neighborhood, and today I saw the season's first rattlesnake.
     Seeing a rattlesnake was no news back when I lived on the rez in Arizona. Wasn't unusual to see two, three of them on an 8-mile run.
     Biggest rattlesnake I ever saw on the rez was 8 feet long. I know diamondback rattlers aren't supposed to get bigger than 6, 6½ feet, but this dude was 8. I remember it better than I remember yesterday.
     It was 108 degrees in June. I figured if I did six-minute miles on the 5-mile loop I'd be out there for only half an hour, not long enough for the sun to do me any harm. So I scooted on out there, running fast.
     Right at the halfway point, I saw those black-and-white circles beneath the rattles out of the corner of an eye. I stopped and walked back and looked.
     It was 108 degrees, right? - middle of the afternoon under a cloudless blue sky in Arizona - and I got the chills. I was cold out there, goosebumps everywhere.
     This dude was bigger around in the middle than any cantaloupe I ever saw. His head tapered to that deadly viper triangle - but what a giant head. I believe I did the second half of that loop faster than the first half that day.
     That wasn't my closest encounter with a rattlesnake.
     One day in February I wondered why my hot water heater didn't work. It was in a little outside closet right next to my front door. I lay on my back and scooched underneath it to see what was wrong.
     Lying there, wondering why anyone would steal a copper pipe, I heard that sound: "Tl-tl-tl-tl-tl-tl-tl-tl." Turned my head and there it was, no more than 6 inches from my eyes, coiled up, looking at me, ready to strike. I was so close to him I saw the color of his brown eyes, the oblong black slits of his pupils. Fortunately, it was cold, and he was sleepy.
     I rolled on out of there and walked down the road from the teacher housing toward the high school. School had just let out and kids greeted me.
     "Hi, Mr. Kahn," they said.
     "Beep!" I said. "Gerp!" I believe I was waving my hands.
     I was unable to speak.
     This went on until I got to a group of teachers clustered on the long driveway.
     "Meep!" I said. "Beemp." I believe I was waving my hands.
     "What's wrong with you, Coyote?" the young vo ag teacher said.
     The older vo ag teacher said, "He saw a snake."
     I touched my nose. "Merp!" I said.
     The vo ag teachers made me a snake catcher, a wire loop at the end of a PVC pipe, and I had to go back into that closet and pull the snake out and kill it. That was not easy to do. The snake did not want to come out. He coiled himself around a leg of the hot water heater and held on, and I was not at all enthusiastic about giving him great tugs - toward me. I finally got him out - he was a little 3-footer - and I did what had to be done. Gave his rattles away to a little white kid who thought they were cool.
     I have nothing against rattlesnakes. I like rattlesnakes. They are beautiful creatures. Useful, too. Got gophers, rats, other vermin? Set a couple of rattlesnakes on them, and those problems will be over. Of course, you will still have the snakes.

 
From The Courts
Milt Policzer
Story Date:   
Bad Dreams

     "Dreams can come true."
     Or something like that. I was at the gym the other day catching my breath between feats of strength (aka feats of weakness) and looking at a TV above me. The sound was turned off but I'm pretty sure the young woman on screen was saying that to an interviewer.
     What had her dream been?
     Well, she'd just won a three-point basketball shooting contest, so her dream was either winning that contest or being on TV so she could say something unoriginal.
     That was her dream?
     Her goal in life?
     I found myself hoping the poor woman (who apparently had just been graduated from high school) had a lot of other dreams too. Otherwise her life was pretty much over.
     This is the sort of oddity that gets me to thinking (and you know how dangerous that is). Why is there so much encouragement for following dreams?
     Consider where the advice comes from.
     Have you ever been to a seminar with a panel made up of failures?
     No, career advice comes almost exclusively from books and speeches and discussions featuring wildly successful human beings.
     What do they know about reality?
     If the winner of "American Idol" tells you never to give up on your dream, should you keep on warbling off-key?
     Of course not.
     We media types should be ashamed. When was the last time you read a heartcooling tale of a remarkable failure in a magazine or newspaper?
     It's always the star athlete or the obscure hit movie screenwriter who never gave up whose story gets told. The millions of others who didn't quite make it may as well not exist.
     Fortunately, I'm here to set you dreamers straight.
     Dreams don't come true for most people.
     Take me, for instance. My childhood dream was to grow up and become a bus driver. It looked fairly easy and since you had to use the same route every day, it would be hard to get lost. (I didn't have a whole lot of self-confidence.)
     It seemed a reasonable dream and yet it never came true. I had overestimated my capacity for tedium.
     I just wasn't cut out for the job.
     So what should be done about rampant dreaming?
     Before I answer that, I should point out that crushing dreams is important. Consider the hordes of law graduates who can't find clients. Consider the college football and basketball players who spend years honing their useless skill only to be unable to find anyone willing to pay them for playing.
     Consider lottery players.
     Dreams are the cause of despair.
     If there are any wealthy philanthropists out there reading this, I'm begging you to create and finance the Crush a Wish Foundation.
     This is a much-needed charity designed to create a bonding and educational experience for healthy youths with big dreams by allowing them to spend time with role models in bankruptcy courts and alcoholism counseling sessions.
     Turning dreams into nightmares will save countless lives.
     And provide useful work for failures.
     By the way, to my surprise, Dreamscometrue.com is not a porn site. I challenge you to guess what it is before checking it out.
     
     Computer Danger: There's more than just Heartbleed and an epidemic of identity theft and frustrating websites that don't work to worry about.
     I ran across this unexpected sentence in a lawsuit against Hewlett Packard last week: "On April 16, 2012, plaintiff was using the laptop computer described above when it unexpectedly exploded ..."
     Computers are out to get us.