A Courtside Seat
Sunshine in the Courtroom
By Judge Kim Hall
Imagine this. You go into work on Monday morning and anyone may walk in, sit down, and observe everything you do and say. Also, journalists may come in, take notes on every word spoken, and then report it to thousands of people – who just happen to be your bosses.
If that isn’t enough, nearly everything you say, every day, is recorded. If ever they want, your seniors can get a transcript of every word you said – as well as any decision made – and determine if you made an error. You could call that an “open” workplace, or you could call that the Starke Circuit Court.
I like an open government. And, I think that most Americans agree. An open government is more accountable and more likely to be trustworthy than one which operates in secret.
Our courtroom, which has plenty of activity nearly every weekday, is open to the public. There are exceptions for certain types of cases, but the doors are open over 90% of the time and the schedule is posted on the computer monitor outside the courtroom doors. Inside the doors you may find a criminal jury trial, a divorce, or even a complex and interesting case with attorneys from all over the state.
O.K., so you don’t want to walk up to the third floor of the courthouse just to see what is on the schedule. What if you could get that information in your recliner, with your laptop and index finger? No problem. In 2008, for the first time, we obtained the ability to post the court schedule on the internet. You can be just about anywhere in the world and see what is happening on any given day in the Starke Circuit Court. Go to the Starke County website, www.co.starke.in.us, and look up the Judge’s or Magistrate’s calendars, 24/7/ 365.
If that isn’t enough openness for you, all documents associated with over 90 % of the cases are public records and, as such, are open for you to read, copy, and take home. Just walk into the Clerk’s office and request to look at a court file, and your request will be granted, unless the case falls into one of the confidential categories as defined by the law.
What else can we do to make our court more open? Perhaps someday there will be live streaming to your computer or iPhone. Already, Indiana Appellate Court hearings are often accessible via live streaming. It’s not that you would necessarily want to do it, but giving you the power to choose whether to access it is what is important.
There are hundreds of governments in the world, and you will find the most open government here in America. Arguably, the most open of the three branches of our government is our judiciary – our courts. And, the most open and accessible courts to the public are our state trial courts, like the Starke Circuit Court.
Everyone’s invited. If you want to witness the law resolving important real life matters, daily, on the third floor of your courthouse, just walk right in and sit right down.
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Something to Ponder
Government ought to be all outside and no inside.
- President Woodrow Wilson