Thursday, May 26, 2011

Federal Courts Work on their Archives

Another excellent article in the US Federal Courts newsletter. The Third Branch from their May, 2011 edition shares news of recent work being done by the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management Records Subcommittee.

The article, Making Room-Saving History, summarizes work being done by the Federal Courts with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to reduce the massive accumulation of records that "cost the Judiciary over $6.2 million last year".

The article notes:

""Records had accumulated for decades and had become an unmanageable mass," said Judge Steven Merryday (M.D. Fla.), then chair of the Records Subcommittee, part of the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management (CACM). "With the potential of rising storage costs, we were facing catastrophic budget consequences." Merryday's subcommittee began by looking for ways to preserve what needed to be kept and what could be disposed. They sought the advice of the head of the National Archives and court representatives. The subcommittee went over, code by code, what would be found in a file, and agreed on what should be preserved. Then they made their recommendations to the full CACM Committee and then to the Judicial Conference."

The article further notes:

This is the first time in more than 30 years that NARA has been able to dispose of any federal court case records. They've begun with paper civil case files dating back to 1970. But before they dispose of any files, courts have the ability to designate "non-trial temporary case" files between 1970 and 1995 as historic. These files will be retained and stored. All cases filed at any time that proceeded to trial, and all cases filed before 1970 are automatically designated permanent and will not be destroyed. The remaining cases will be indexed and become easier to access.

What is considered historically significant? The CACM Committee, working with NARA, federal judges, historians, and academics, proposes that certain case records be designated permanent. Cases of historic significance would involve particular issues such as state reapportionment cases, civil rights voting cases, treason, national security, family farm and historic bankruptcy cases, and death penalty habeas corpus cases. Judges and clerks of court also are asked to designate cases that:
  • Involved a lawyer, litigant, or witness of historical interest or importance;
  • Involved an issue of historical interest;
  • Involved a matter of national interest separate from the issues in the litigation; or
  • Received substantial media attention at the time.
Several state courts have done similar work including promenently the New York State Judiciary Records Management program.  For a list of their policies click here.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Wireless Device Guidelines for Federal Courts

The April, 2011 edition of the Federal Courts Third Branch newsletter contains a timely article: Wireless Device Access Guidelines Strike Balance.  The article begins:

“The American public loves the convenience of their wireless communication devices—PDAs and laptops, smart phones and earpiece devices, among others. It’s estimated there are 285 million cell phone users in the United States.

However, the same devices that provide convenience in communications may raise security concerns in federal courts and possibly disrupt proceedings. Courts have responded with a variety of access policies.

To help strike the right balance between security concerns and convenience, the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, in consultation with the Information Technology Committee and the Judicial Security Committee, has issued revised guidance for courts to consider that updates how new technologies could be used and what this may mean for courts.”