Monday, November 29, 2010

Sign outside court commissioner’s courtroom discourages, practically denies, open court access

I had occasion last week to accompany someone to a small claims civil proceeding being held before Court Commissioner David Keck. Outside his courtroom was a sign telling people there was a hearing in progress and to wait until your case was called. When her case was called, the bailiff would not allow anyone in other than the parties involved in the case. The person whose case I was there for may have been calling me as a witness, but more importantly she wanted me there for moral support. She had a friend there for moral support also and this bailiff wouldn’t let anyone in other than the parties named in the case.

Afterward I questioned Commissioner Keck about this and he said, yes, courts are open, but that I likely was not allowed in because I was a possible witness. I have never seen or heard of witnesses in a small claims civil action not being allowed in a courtroom until they’re called. (I have seen that in criminal cases, however, and the one exception I’ve seen where hearings or trials are often, if not always, closed to the public are when the case involves a minor, such as in molestations or related type cases.) But even if that’s how Commissioner Keck wants to run his courtroom, that didn’t explain the bailiff not allowing in the other person who was there with her. Moreover, according to this woman, Keck never even asked her if she had any witnesses she wanted to call.

The bottom line is, all of that notwithstanding, courtrooms are open to the public – that’s the law – and the very fact that Commissioner Keck has this sign outside his courtroom telling people to wait until their case is called discourages, and essentially denies, the general public the ability and right to see their courts in action – at least this one. That right is further denied by a bailiff who won't allow anyone in the courtroom not named as a party to the complaint. These are bad policies, and ones I believe Commissioner Keck needs to change so the public has the same access to his courtroom that we do all others in this county and state, and as we are entitled to under the law.


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