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There are Secret Courts in the United States

W. Scott Cole

Posted on March 14, 2019 01:55

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It should make anyone in this country nervous when a part of our government operates in secret, especially when that part is the judicial system. There are good reasons to seal some cases, especially when they involve minors, but a sealed case still exists in court databases and can be accessed by police and other courts. With sufficient reason, they can be ordered unsealed. Suppressed cases do not exist in the normal databases, meaning, for normal purposes, those cases do not exist at all.

If you studied history in school, especially the history of the evolution of the English and American court systems, you have heard of the Star Chamber Courts. It was a court in ancient England that operated in secret beginning in 1487 and lasting until 1641 when it was abolished by Parliament. Being a court that kept its proceedings entirely secret in every case from beginning to end, it naturally became corrupt and abusive, with defendants often not even knowing why they were arrested until they were convicted. The term “Star Chamber Court” has become synonymous with a corrupt judicial system.

You can’t be blamed for thinking secret courts can’t happen here, since the United States Constitution, in the Sixth Amendment, requires a public trial. You would also be wrong. The federal government has its FISA court, which operates entirely in secret, issuing search and wiretap warrants that have no public oversight and whose records are entirely withheld from the public eye. Among other things, the FISA court has ruled that the Fourth Amendment against illegal search and seizure does not apply to the NSA when it comes to collecting and analyzing data of the communications of American citizens.

Many states, too, have secret courts. In Colorado, the Denver Post discovered that courts can suppress cases for any reason and when a case is suppressed, everything about it disappears from public records, including the existence of the case. Once a case is suppressed, the suppression order need never be lifted, which means a person can be tried, convicted, and sentenced with no hint that he was even arrested in public documents.

The Post has been investigating and making its findings public for about a year. The scrutiny has forced the State Supreme Court to order a commission that formulates court rules in Colorado to create rules to govern suppression orders… that’s right, there were no rules previously.

In the course of its investigations, the Post discovered that of the more than 6,700 cases, both criminal and civil, ordered suppressed since 2013, one case that has been suppressed for the last three years was a lawsuit alleging that a state agency created an illegal policy that regulates and oversees the medical marijuana industry. A government agency creating regulations that the courts help to keep secret is never a good thing.

Among the suppressed cases are also legal and medical malpractice lawsuits. Yes, doctors and lawyers in Colorado can be sued for malpractice and have a way to keep the public from ever knowing about it.

The suppressed cases can be found, if a person has the knowledge to know where to look, the tenacity to dig, and a way to access hidden databases, something very few private citizens can do.

Secret courts are another example of how governments abuse their power in the modern age and should be made illegal everywhere. Do you know where the secret courts are in your state? It might be worth it to find out.

W. Scott Cole

Posted on March 14, 2019 01:55

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When he was U.S. attorney for Utah, Brett Tolman would deliver the same line in front of business leaders over and over again....

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