Constitutional Law

Fla. Courts Open Doors to Public in Foreclosure Cases After Rolling Stone Pens Expose

Following a Rolling Stone expose about how a judge in one Florida court handled foreclosure cases on Jacksonville’s “rocket docket,” officials swiftly made changes to improve public access.

The issue, which hit the newsstands Friday, was followed by a flurry of letters from the American Civil Liberties Union and media groups citing First Amendment issues. By yesterday, Chief Judge Donald Moran of the Fourth Judicial Circuit was pledging to make changes–at least one at the suggestion, he said, of the profiled jurist, Senior Judge A.C. Soud, reports the Florida Times-Union. The newspaper was among the groups signing the letters.

Rolling Stone said Soud admonished a lawyer by e-mail for accompanying the magazine’s reporter to court, telling her “we ask that anyone other than a lawyer remain in the lobby” during hearings and threatening to hold her in contempt.

And a Nov. 12 letter to the chief justice of the state supreme court from the ACLU and media groups cited other claimed practices of discouraging citizens from attending court hearings in foreclosure cases,saying that would-be observers–and, in at least one case, an actual pro se litigant–were told they could not attend court hearings, because they were not open to the public, according to the Times-Union.

Says Moran: “All the courts are open. So I’m not sure what that’s talking about. No one’s denied permission.”

However, he asked court administration to look into the situation and pledged to ensure that foreclosure hearings are open to the public. Meanwhile, Soud’s call is already being moved to a larger area rather than what amounted to an in-chambers conference room, to achieve the same purpose.

Additional coverage:

St. Petersburg Times: “Florida’s foreclosure courts get harsh look”

St. Petersburg Times: “ACLU: Keep foreclosure hearings open in Florida courts”

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