Monday, April 2, 2012

The Myth of Open Courts

I first published this article on July 11, 2003, after a visit to the United States District Courthouse in Denver, Colorado.

Courts are scary things to many people. To others, they are a mystery. Regardless of what they represent to any one person, they are, in the final analysis, a place where the people' s business is conducted. They exist solely on taxpayer funding and user fees. Our courts belong to We the People.

Except, I guess, the United States District Court in Denver, Colorado.

It just so happened I had some business in that court yesterday as a plaintiff in a case which was on the docket. I' ve been in that courthouse before. I' ve shown my identification and submitted to security screening as a condition of entering. I 've filed paperwork and sat in on hearings in various courtrooms. I 've been present for my own hearings. I 've never been molested by the U. S. Marshals who are responsible for the security in that public building, and I' ve never been questioned on my reasons for being in the courthouse. I ve also never observed them questioning anybody else, either.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday, I was questioned by a U. S. Marshal as to the nature of my business in that public building. There was no reason for this questioning, I had created no disruption or security risk. In fact, I had entered the building in my usual manner and used the lavatory before this marshal approached me as I waited for an elevator.

"What is your business here today?" he demanded.

" I have a case I must be present for," I replied.

"What time? "

I named a time two hours in the future. He demanded to know my name, and stated that he would check the docket to make sure I was on it. He then wanted to know what I was going to do until the hearing.

" Sit in on some hearings," I responded.

"You can' t just go from courtroom to courtroom and sit in watching," he advised me.

Imagine my shock! A member of the public is not allowed to observe court proceedings? I thought our courts were open to the public in this country! So I pulled out my ace in the hole. " I' m also a member of the media," I stated.

He demanded to see my press pass. I wasn' t there in my capacity as a media representative and I didn' t have it with me. To be honest, I leave everything in my car when I have to enter secure buildings, like this Federal courthouse. Fortunately my associate, Cordley, was with me and had his press pass.

Once again he admonished us that we could not observe court proceedings. He scared me enough that I didn' t enter any courtrooms as I had planned. Instead, I went to my car and got my video camera and set up an interview outside the courthouse to document the harassment and intimidation Cordley and I had just experienced.

As we were wrapping up, a police officer drove up and got out of his cruiser. He demanded to know what we were doing. He advised us that we cannot video tape employees on the public street (there is legally no expectation of privacy on a public street!) or photograph the security mechanisms of the building (as if I could recognize them!).

This was an illegal photo taken in East Berlin in 1979
I was again shocked. The last time I was informed I could not photograph a government building or public employees on a public street was in East Berlin in 1979, long before the wall came down.

And now, in 2003 in Denver, Colorado, I am back in East Berlin under an apparent socialist regime intent upon censoring the media (especially the rogue independent media) and holding secret hearings behind closed doors.

No-man's zone East Berlin 1979
Security. Quite the buzzword. The security goons use that excuse to issue arbitrary orders that violate our well-established constitutionally protected rights secure in the knowledge that anyone who objects can be summarily ejected from the premises or arrested.

It is most amazing that the American public is not concerned about these developments. How long will it be, before we have a walled border complete with a no-man' s zone and tower guards just to keep those nasty terrorists out; yet the only ones who get shot going over that wall are those trying to escape the beneficent nanny state, the former constitutional republic known as the United States of America? Is that what it will take to generate concern? If so, it will be too little, too late.

We have plenty of history to draw on when analyzing what is happening to our rights. . .and it looks like too few have learned from it, therefore we are doomed to repeat history . . . again.

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