The Case of Who? v. We Don't Know What You Are Talking About


In more Sunshine Week-relevant news, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press discovers that

During the past five years, 469 cases in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., have been prosecuted and tried in complete secrecy, with no public knowledge even of the cases' existence and no way for the public to challenge the secrecy.
Keeping cases off the docket–and off the public record–is different from sealing cases. The only way to determine the existence of off-the-docket cases is to scroll through public dockets searching for missing case numbers
In Washington's federal district court, most off-the-docket criminal cases were kept off the public docket after prosecutors asked judges to seal the cases……Both the department's arguments for and the judge's approval of sealing an undocketed case are shielded from public view, making it impossible to know whether the guidelines are followed.

Such secrecy is necessary, some argue, both to protect whistleblowers and to make prosecutions possible in cases related to gangs who can be expected to retaliate with violence, where the very ability to notice, say, that not much progess appears to be happening with a docketed case might lead some associated crook to guess this means someone involved is squealing, and mayhem will result. This secret docketing has been declared unconstitutional in the 2nd and 11th circuits. The Reporters Committee report, very long but worth reading in full, questions the wisdom of a practice whereby

even after a case ends, the public remains completely in the dark about defendants prosecuted, tried and sentenced in a court system based for centuries on judicial openness. The cases, for all intents and purposes, simply do not exist. Stacey Sutton, an attorney [who works with the ACLU says] "It's a bedrock of our constitutional system that courts are open to the public," she said. "That there are entire cases closed to the public is inherently adverse to our system."

ABA Journal reports on the secret docket here.