Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Access Is Essential

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Access Is Essential

Article excerpt

Public access to the vast majority of state court proceedings - such as foreclosure cases - is a basic right in Florida.

Or at least it had been.

Then complaints about access problems in foreclosure courts started popping up this summer as courts led by retired Florida judges confronted a tidal wave of foreclosure cases.

Fortunately, Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Charles P. Canady and Duval Chief Judge Donald Moran didn't hesitate to ensure better court access Monday after a coalition of media and First Amendment groups delivered letters to them with accounts of problems on Friday.

The groups - which included The Florida Times-Union, the Florida Press Association and the First Amendment Foundation - presented several cases that illustrated how some foreclosure courts had been operating under a presumption of closure, including two from Duval County.

THE INCIDENTS

- A Duval woman defending herself in her own foreclosure case was told by a member of court security that only attorneys could attend.

- An Orange County court observer was told that foreclosure proceedings took place in private chambers, not for the public.

- A Hillsborough County court observer called to ask about the rules governing attendance of proceedings and was informed that the public couldn't attend.

In another Duval County case, presiding Judge A.C. Soud threatened to hold Jacksonville Area Legal Aid lawyer April Charney in contempt after she brought a Rolling Stone reporter with her to foreclosure court, saying a proper request for the news media should have been made to a security officer first, The Times-Union reported.

But the press has no less right to attend proceedings than the public; the press also has no special high bar to jump for access.

CORRECTING A WRONG

In response to the concerns, Canady said he was "deeply concerned" about the allegations and said he was directing the state courts administrator to recommend corrective action. …

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