Monday, May 12, 2003

Secret Courts

Oh this is just delightful.

Federal Judge Asked to Toss Secret-File SuitFederal Court in Florida Hides Cases From Public
Dan Christensen
Miami Daily Business Review

With the start last week of the government's high-profile drug trafficking case against accused Colombian drug lord Fabio Ochoa, a fresh spotlight is shining on a little-known practice by the U.S. District Court in South Florida that's hiding civil and criminal cases from the public.

Ochoa's defense team, including Miami super-lawyer Roy Black, says it has identified several drug cases in which the existence of events and pleadings were omitted from the public docket. The Daily Business Review learned that in one case drug defendant Nicholas Bergonzoli was convicted, sentenced and imprisoned last year in total secrecy.

Drug cases aren't the only ones sometimes kept completely secret. Also obscured from view on the docket kept by Court Clerk Clarence Maddox's office is a civil case brought against a prison warden by a young Algerian man living in Deerfield Beach, Fla., Mohamed Kamel Bellahouel, who was once mistakenly suspected of involvement with terrorists.

Neither the courts nor the U.S. Attorney's Office, however, acknowledges that dockets are being secretly maintained. A 10-year-old decision by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta -- U.S. v. Valenti -- forbids the use of so-called dual dockets in which some matters are held back from the public.