Southern Indiana Federal Court Film Nominated for 2 Emmys

Documentarians David Gudaitis (far left) and Alan Backler look over Doria Lynch’s script for a film on the federal courts in Indiana. (IL Photo/Eric Learned)

The documentary about the federal courts in Indiana produced to mark the Southern Indiana District Court’s bicentennial in 2017 has been nominated for two Emmy Awards by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, Lower Great Lakes Chapter.

The film, “And Justice for All: Indiana’s Federal Courts,” has been nominated in the documentary-historical category and in the musical composition/arrangement category. Winners will be announced at the 49thAnnual Emmy Awards ceremony June 23, 2018.

In addition to providing an overview of the history of Indiana’s federal courts, the film portrays the events surrounding three cases of historical significance that drew national attention. Documentarians, Indiana historians and members of the local federal bar reenacted the courtroom dramas in Ex parte Milligan, a Civil War-era case; United States v. Ryan, et al., a case of domestic terrorism; and United States v. Board of School Commissioners of the City of Indianapolis, a desegregation case. The full film can be viewed here.

Produced by Gudaitis Productions, a documentary and educational film production company, the project was led by David Gudaitis, Alan Backler and Larry Laswell. The script was written by Doria Lynch, special projects manager of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana.

Florida’s State Courts “leading the nation” in Social Media

Long seen as the quietest branch of state government, Florida’s state courts have emerged in the last year as a national leader in social media use – particularly Twitter.

“The Florida state courts really have delved into social media in a more systematic way than courts anywhere else in the country,” said longtime Florida Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters. “We are leading the nation with 20 out of 26 court divisions using Twitter to reach the public right now. That’s an astounding number.”

In a report sent yesterday to Florida’s Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, Waters and his staff detail the first year’s work in a state court communications plan adopted by the Florida Supreme Court in December 2015. Labarga sent the plan for implementation to a professional association of Florida court staff called the Florida Court Public Information Officers, or FCPIO. Waters is the group’s founder and its current executive director.

The goal is simple. It’s not enough that courts do justice. They also must make sure people see justice being done.

It was a mission FCPIO quickly accepted. Originally set up by a post-9/11 crisis management plan in 2002, FCPIO has evolved into a group of court communications professionals unique in the nation. No other state has anything approaching it – though many states now are studying FCPIO and the plan it is carrying out for Florida’s judiciary.

FCPIO incorporated itself as a federally recognized nonprofit in early 2007, right at the time events in Silicon Valley began shaking up the communications landscape. That was only a year after Twitter opened its doors and three years after the founding of Facebook.

But FCPIO also brings talent to the table. With representatives in every Florida state court, the group has been led by several media-skilled court officers that saw the need for statewide education and coordination with an emphasis on openness.

Waters is a lawyer and former Gannett newspaper reporter who has worked for the Florida Supreme Court for 30 years and started its public information office, its gavel-to-gavel oral argument broadcasts, and its website in the 1990s. FCPIO’s current president, Eunice Sigler of the Miami courts, is a former Miami Herald reporter and winner of a Pulitzer Prize for team coverage of the Elian Gonzalez immigration case.

The report on implementing the plan addresses other issues that include:

  • Websites. Eighteen of Florida’s 20 circuit courts and all of the district courts of appeal currently are working toward redesigns of their websites because they are the judiciary’s most important communications tool.
  • Social media. The Florida state courts continue to debate the pros and cons of social media because of the strict ethical limits they must shoulder. While Twitter is now broadly used, Facebook has been more controversial – and only a minority of the state courts currently use it. However, FCPIO is studying ways to address concerns and identify best practices employed by courts now using Facebook.
    Podcasts. Two courts in Orlando and Miami currently are using podcasts to communicate with the public, and the Florida Supreme Court its own podcasting program, Beyond the Bench.
  • Media Relations. FCPIO will continue to educate courts personnel and judges in the methods needed to work in a cooperative and respectful way with news media. And Twitter has become an important tool for getting word out to the press and the public about breaking news.
    Community outreach. Court outreach programs such as courthouse tours for schoolchildren, citizen forums, and public education programs remain important parts of the courts’ mission. They include outreach to elected officials, town hall meetings for residents, and innovative uses of Twitter to reach out to student groups and others.
  • Internal communications. Proper communications with internal court staff remain important so that everyone understands the overall mission, the need to speak with a unified voice, and the ways to address problems when they arise. One important example is crisis communications with staff during hurricanes or other emergencies.

The Florida state courts’ stress on good communications rests on a near-legendary history.

“What you see now,” said Waters, “is really part of a longstanding commitment to transparency that began with Florida letting cameras into the courts in the 1970s. It continues today thanks to several visionary judges leading the state system over the last half century. And despite doom-saying elsewhere in the nation, Florida’s courts really have had a very positive experience. Openness works.”

New website offers resources for managing high-profile cases

Managing High-Profile Cases for the 21st Century

A high-profile case can land in your court with little or no warning. If unprepared, such cases can create chaos, absorb resources, and place your court at the center of an intense media spotlight. Judges and court professionals now have instant online access to the tools necessary to plan and manage high-profile cases in their courts. The new Managing High-Profile Cases for the 21st Century website is a joint project of the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), the Conference of Court Public Information Officers, and the National Judicial College. The project was made possible through a State Justice Institute grant.

“The vast majority of cases in our state courts are resolved with little or no fanfare,” NCSC President Mary C. McQueen said. “But when public scrutiny focuses on a particular trial – whether it involves a heinous crime, a celebrity, or a societal issue –  judges and other court leaders need effective tools to help them manage intense media, security, and crowd issues, especially in a rapidly evolving technological environment.”

The new website offers best practices, techniques, and tools that have proven useful to courts that have experienced high-profile trials, in addition to checklists to help the trial judge, administrative officer, security personnel, jury managers, and others provide public access while ensuring a fair trial. The website also features the top six considerations for courts confronted with a high-profile trial, such as who will be on the leadership team, and what unique challenges will arise from this case? The website helps courts identify solutions to the six questions.

NCSC’s 1998 publication, Managing Notorious Trials, provided the basic framework of information, and an advisory committee of expert trial judges, court administrators, public information officers, and others added insights about new issues in high-profile case management.

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BC Provincial Court’s Second Twitter Town Hall a Success!

On April 6, 2017 Chief Judge Thomas Crabtree kicked off the British Columbia (BC) Provincial Court Law Week activities with the Court’s second live Twitter Town Hall. As he had the previous year, the Chief Judge spent two hours tweeting responses to questions and comments tweeted to #AskChiefJudge.

Once again, there was a range of participants – justice system organizations, lawyers, students, and people with legal problems – and a range of questions. Traffic during the Town Hall, held from 11:00 am to 1:00 pm this year, was busy. The Court’s Twitter handle, @BCProvCourt, was used so often it was declared to be “trending in Vancouver” during the event.

Including questions sent in advance, the Court received 176 tweets (77 questions and 69 comments) and responded with 129 answers and 9 comments. Several questions received more than one reply, as the Chief Judge included links to reference material – articles, reports and judgments – to supplement his 140-character tweets. Justice and law-related groups were invited to share helpful information and resources during the Town Hall and their contributions accounted for many of the comments.

Access to justice was a popular topic. There were suggestions for night and weekend courts, discussion of “unbundling” legal services, and talk about the expansion of the new online Civil Resolution Tribunal to include Small Claims cases up to $5000. Several participants expressed concern that the Civil Resolution Tribunal Act prohibits people from using lawyers in that process. Others asked if different types of cases might be moved online.

There were questions about how judges are appointed and how to increase diversity on the bench. Technology, the importance of using plain language, restorative justice, and First Nations Courts were other topics raised. Judges’ use of social media also prompted discussion – including an exchange with a Dutch judge in Dutch!

Associate Chief Judges Gillespie and Wishart, Judge Jamieson, Digital Communications Coordinator Judge Ann Rounthwaite (retired), Legal Officers Caroline Berkey and Karen Leung, and staff members Alicia Perez and Lauren Van Leeuwen formed the Court team supporting the Chief Judge in this year’s Twitter Town Hall. Clicklaw Coordinator Audrey Jun, Karen St. Aubin and Travis Dudfield of the Canadian Bar Association BC Branch, and Meghan Maddigan from the Law Society of BC also participated and helped with publicity.

Response to the Town Hall was positive. There were appreciative tweets like the ones shown here. Online media carried stories about the Town Hall as it was happening. And in an article in SLAW, “Canada’s online legal magazine”, legal practice management consultant David Bilinsky wrote:

“@BCProvCourt is a very active Twitter handle and tweets regularly on topics related to the courts, law and related developments. … This is one of the most open and transparent courts in the world and it is setting an example of how a traditional institution does not have to be locked into a traditional mindset. Of course this all comes from leadership at the top and staff that support an innovative approach to courts, dispute resolution and the role of courts in society.”

Then, on April 10, the Nova Scotia Courts tweeted this final accolade:

 

See many of the 2017 Twitter Town Hall tweets and responses here (scroll to the bottom to read in chronological order).

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