Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reports Of Bailiff Blockades, Proceedings Conducted In Locked Rooms Suggest Public Still Faces Obstacles When Seeking Access To F'closure Proceedings

In Tampa, Florida, the St. Petersburg Times reports:

  • Hillsborough County's chief judge is taking extra steps to allow the public into foreclosure proceedings after watchdog groups raised concerns about hearings taking place in locked rooms.

  • "There is no policy in place to exclude people," Judge Manuel Menendez said. "Anybody who wants to be in there can be in there."

  • The Florida Press Association, the First Amendment Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Florida Society of News Editors complained in a letter to Menendez last week that bailiffs blocked people twice from "hearing rooms" to witness foreclosure cases. The groups said the practice violates Florida law, and they welcomed Menendez's pledge to make the hearings more accessible.

  • "For a homeowner, a foreclosure case carries incredibly high stakes, and all parties deserve an open hearing," said Larry Schwartztol, an ACLU attorney in New York City.

  • Hearing rooms are smaller offices near judges' chambers. Because of a large backlog of foreclosure cases, the rooms are used for convenience when routine paperwork is done on cases, the judge said.

  • Court administrators have questioned bailiffs and other court workers and believe the incidents were isolated, Menendez said. He plans to schedule the hearings in courtrooms when space is available. Signs will also be posted directing people to call court officials if they are blocked from entering any public hearing. "It should not have happened," the judge said.

Source: Hillsborough County takes extra steps to keep court hearings open.

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