Court System Transparency
111 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2007 Last revised: 20 Jan 2009
This article applies systems analysis to two ends. First, it identifies simple changes that would make the court system transparent. Second, it projects transparency's consequences. Transparency means that both the patterns across, and details of, case files are revealed to policymakers, litigants, and the public in easily understood forms.
Government must make two changes to achieve court system transparency. The first is to remove the existing restrictions on the electronic release of court documents, including the requirements for registration, separate requests for each document, and monetary payment. The second - already being implemented in the federal courts - is to require the use of data-enabled forms. Once these changes are in place, institutions and private parties will process the available data at the parties' own expense. That processing will generate millions of real-time views of court system operation using automatically-updated regression analyses and both textual and graphical data displays.
The effect would be a renaissance. Corruption, incompetence, inefficiency, prejudice and favoritism would be exposed and wither. Litigation would be cheap and easy because parties could see all court files in the system and copy the work of others. Policy makers could see the human consequences of the laws they enact and adjust accordingly. Lawyers could predict the outcomes of their cases, making litigation less necessary. Citizens would for the first time be able to derive and see the real rules by which they are governed.
Transparency would have a minimal effect on privacy. The data processed are already public record and adequate privacy protections are already provided through sealing orders and redaction requirements. Transparency would generate pressures on judges and court administrators, but the effects of those pressures would be generally positive. Limitations on the public enforcement of private arbitration awards might be necessary to prevent parties from opting out of the transparent system.
Keywords: transparency, courts, privacy, regression, electronic, bankruptcy, prediction, legal documents, pdf, data-enabled forms, federal courts, pacer, relational data
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