Chief Justice Of Florida Supreme Court Says State Foreclosure Court Hearings Must Be Open To Public

November 17, 2010

Directive Comes After ACLU And Coalition Of Journalistic And First Amendment Groups Raised Concerns About Transparency

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2666; media@aclu.org

TALAHASSEE, FL – The chief justice of the Supreme Court of Florida today issued a directive to the chief judges of Florida's 20 judicial circuits instructing them to ensure that the judges they supervise and the staff that reports to those judges, as well as bailiffs and employees of the clerks of court, keep all foreclosure court proceedings in the state open to the public.

The directive was issued after the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Florida and a coalition of journalistic and First Amendment organizations earlier this week sent letters to Chief Justice Charles P. Canady of the Supreme Court of Florida and Chief Judge Donald R. Moran of Florida's Fourth Judicial Circuit highlighting a number of reports from around the state pointing to a troubling pattern of foreclosure courts operating behind closed doors rather than openly as mandated by Florida law. Along with the ACLU, other organizations that signed the letters include the Florida Press Association, the Florida Association of Broadcasters, the Florida Society of News Editors, the Florida Times-Union newspaper and the First Amendment Foundation. Public access to foreclosure court proceedings is especially important given recent media reports in Florida and around the country revealing rampant error and fraud in the foreclosure process.

Earlier this week and also in response to the letters, Chief Judge Moran issued a memo to the judges in the state's Fourth Judicial Circuit directing that starting next week foreclosure court proceedings will be held in traditional courtrooms in order to facilitate open public access.

In his memo today to Florida's chief judges, Chief Justice Canady wrote, "As the chief administrative officer of the Florida judicial branch, I am directing all chief judges to examine the current practices within their respective judicial circuits to ensure that those practices are entirely consistent with the constitutional, statutory, procedural rule, and case law requirements of this state regarding the presumption that state court proceedings are open to the public."

The following can be attributed to Larry Schwartztol, staff attorney with the ACLU Racial Justice Program:

"We are pleased with Chief Justice Canady's directive and believe it reflects just how seriously he takes Florida's strong commitment to open court proceedings. Florida law is very clear that court proceedings are presumptively open to the public. Chief Justice Canday has provided clear guidance to the chief judges around the state on their obligation to provide open access. The protection of public access to judicial proceedings serves fundamental constitutional values and upholds the transparency of the judicial process."

The memos from Chief Justice Canady and Chief Judge Moran, as well as the letters sent earlier this week by the ACLU are available online at: www.aclu.org/racial-justice/letters-regarding-open-access-florida-state-foreclosure-court-proceedings

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