Blogs

Court Office Seeks Input on Proposed Changes to Judiciary’s Policy Governing Electronic Case Records

HARRISBURG, February 6, 2011–The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC) is seeking input regarding proposed amendments to the policy governing electronic records stored in the Judiciary’s case management systems and made available online at no charge.
 
“The proposed amendments expand the Supreme Court’s long-standing tradition of providing online access to court records while recognizing appropriate restrictions on personal data that could jeopardize an individual’s privacy and safety or subject them to identity theft,” said Court Administrator of Pennsylvania Zygmont A. Pines.
 
The most significant proposed change is to begin posting magisterial district court civil and landlord/tenant cases on the Judiciary’s web site with the full addresses of the litigants to help distinguish them from individuals with similar names in densely populated areas.  Dates of birth and other personal identifiers are not included in these case filings.

All other cases will continue being posted online with the litigant’s partial address (city, state and zip code) because those cases have date of birth information which can help distinguish individuals with similar names.
 
The AOPC is also recommending that the Judiciary’s Electronic Case Record Public Access Policy exclude access to images of documents filed and stored in the state court case management systems.  Another amendment will allow the AOPC to release additional case data if the request meets approved academic, government and professional standards, and the information released does not identify specific individuals or present a risk to personal security and privacy.
 
Beginning with a notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on Saturday, February 4, the AOPC is seeking comment regarding the proposed policy amendments for a 30-day period that ends March 5. The amendments can be viewed at the Pennsylvania Judiciary’s Public Access web page http://www.pacourts.us/T/AOPC/PublicAccessPolicy.htm where visitors can also email comments regarding the proposal.
 
“Last year the public accessed more than 39 million magisterial district, Common Pleas and appellate court case records online at no charge,” Pines said.  “In addition, the AOPC provided 397 customized bulk court reports to government entities for free.”
 
The public can search the individual case docket sheets Judiciary’s web site at http://ujsportal.pacourts.us/ by court, case category and status, docket number and type, county and participant name and date of birth, and date filed.

Notice on Civil/Orphans' Court Motions

Judge Caruso will not be hearing civil or orphans’ court motions on Friday, February 3, 2012, or Friday, February 24, 2012. Counsel should make arrangements to present motions on prior or subsequent Fridays.

Westmoreland County Coroner begins to post notices on Twitter, Facebook

From the December 10, 2011, Tribune-Review

By Paul Peirce
TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Saturday, December 10, 2011

Aficionados of the Westmoreland County Coroner's Office don't approach Lady Gaga's 16.7 million followers or even pop star Justin Bieber's 15.2 million devotees, but Coroner Ken Bacha's office issues instant notification of public rulings via Twitter and Facebook.

In mid-October, the Westmoreland row office became the first in the state to offer official public releases via popular social media. Other coroners are watching the foray with interest.

Such information had been available through email on the county's e-Alert system. Bacha said the office was looking for a way to more quickly disseminate public information.

"It was pretty much changed for convenience ... to get the information out there more quickly," Chief Deputy Coroner Paul Cycak said.

"Previously, if there was a case we were called to, let's say that occurred Friday night, the previous system was set up only to provide information during normal county business hours -- that's 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. So, the media had to wait until Monday morning to get the information,"he said.

"This way, we at least have a system in place to provide the media with that public information during other hours," Cycak said.

Deputy Coroner Josh Zappone handles the office's Twitter feeds and Facebook page. In its first 59 days, Zappone said, the office's Twitter feed had increased from "just a couple" to 47 followers.

"It's been going pretty good so far, I think. The number of followers keeps incrementally increasing," Zappone said.

Zappone said the social media feeds are a way to provide information to reporters, who may be out in the field and in need of the information.

"We wanted to do it in a manner as quickly and efficiently as possible. Also, it is public information, so we decided to make it available to members of the general public who want it ... there's some police officers, people from other agencies and members of the public who follow the office on Twitter or the Facebook page," Zappone said.

Most of the information involves the cause and manner of death, the time of death and the agencies investigating. The information is still being released via email.

All feeds and postings must first be approved by Bacha or Cycak before release. Some information is withheld at the request of investigators.

Notice on Civil/Orphans' Court Motions

Judge McCormick, Jr. will not be hearing civil or orphans’ court motions on the following Fridays: January 27, 2012 and February 3, 2012. Counsel should make arrangements to present motions on a prior or subsequent Friday.

Law Books Available

The Hon. James R. Kelley is retiring at the end of this month and has a number of law books, including some complete sets, available. All are in excellent condition. Anyone interested in obtaining them should contact Judge Kelley at 724-830-2000.

Notice on Civil/Orphans' Court Motions

Judge Marsili and Judge Caruso will not be hearing civil or orphans’ court motions on Friday, December 23, 2011. Counsel should make arrangements to present motions on a prior or subsequent Friday.

Reconciling Truth and Freedom: The Criminal Justice System and the Phenomenon of Wrongful Convictions

From Bruce A. Antkowiak, Counsel to the College and Archabbey, Director: Criminology, Law, and Society, Professor of Law, St. Vincent College

Dear Westmoreland Bar Members:

I am honored to invite you to the first event sponsored by the Saint Vincent College Criminology, Law and Society Program.

On Tuesday, November 29, at 7 p.m. in the Rogers Center at Saint Vincent, we will present a program entitled Reconciling Truth and Freedom: The Criminal Justice System and the Phenomenon of Wrongful Convictions.

Since the 1980’s, two hundred and seventy three innocent people who were investigated, tried, convicted and sentenced for the most serious of offenses have been exonerated by later DNA analysis. In about 75% of those cases, one or more witnesses incorrectly identified the person later exonerated as the perpetrator. In about 25% of those cases, the person later exonerated actually “confessed” to a crime they did not commit.

Matters involving wrongful convictions are sometimes improperly viewed as issues only important to the criminal defense bar. But for public prosecutors, the tragedy of the incarceration of the wrong person is compounded by the fact that for every day spent in the prosecution and incarceration of that innocent person, the actual perpetrator escaped the justice he was due and that society needed to bring to him. For everyone, these incidents hurt the integrity of a system into which we all invest so much and in which we all rightfully take so much pride.

The featured speaker is John Rago, professor of law at Duquesne University, chairman of the Pennsylvania Innocence Commission and preeminent expert in the field. Professor Rago will discuss the primary causes of wrongful convictions in the United States, including the legal and scientific issues involving eyewitness identification and confessions. He will also discuss some reforms proposed by his Commission that will address those critical issues.

Professor Rago will be joined by Kirk Bloodsworth, the first man in America to be exonerated from Death Row by post-conviction DNA analysis. He served almost nine years in prison awaiting the death penalty until his innocence was established. A number of years later, DNA analysis identified the actual perpetrator as a man who was serving time in the same prison as Bloodsworth.  Mr. Bloodsworth has since testified before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees and is largely credited for the passage of significant federal legislation bearing his name that funds DNA testing around the nation.

The event is free and open to the public. Please call 724-805-2177 to reserve your seat (seating is limited).

2011 PBA Zone 6 YLD Caravan

From Bernard C. John, Esq., PBA YLD Zone 6 Chair:

Please accept an invitation to the 2011 PBA Zone 6 YLD Caravan. PBA Zone 6 consists of Westmoreland, Fayette, Washington, and Greene Counties. This year the event is on Tuesday December 6 from 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. in the Meadow Lanes VIP Party Room, Meadows Casino, Racetrack Road, Washington, PA. There will be snacks, beverages, and bowling for all young lawyers in those counties. Specific support for the event is provided by the PBA, FCBA, and WBA. Please let me know if you will be able to attend. Thanks. I hope to see you there.

Bernard
PBA YLD Zone 6 – Chair

Nation’s first online training for Veterans Courts mentors launched by Supreme Court of Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG — The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania today joined state and national veterans’ groups in seeking volunteers to assist former servicemen and servicewomen who come into contact with the criminal justice system.

Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille and Justice Seamus P. McCaffery joined Michael Moreland of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and representatives of Robert Morris University at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center in outlining plans to recruit mentors in support of the state Judiciary’s expanding number of Veterans Courts. Judges in those courts assign mentors to provide support and guidance to veterans caught up in the court system who are struggling with drug/alcohol, mental health and other difficulties. Pennsylvania currently has eight Veterans Courts in operation. Three additional counties have announced plans to form Veterans Courts, and at least four more courts are expected to open in 2012.

As part of the recruitment drive, it was announced today that an online training program — believed to be the first of its kind in the nation — has been launched to enhance access and increase the number of people wanting to become trained as mentors. The program was developed by AOPC staff and is being hosted at no cost to the state court system by Robert Morris University, which also has agreed to manage the site.

“Our nation has a commitment to provide whatever help we can to the brave men and women who have served our country,” Chief Justice Castille said. “This new online training program will make it easy and convenient for veterans to be part of a program to come to the aid of their fellow veterans who encounter difficulties when they return home from service. I am enormously grateful for the work of Robert Morris University in helping us develop something for Pennsylvanians that ultimately could serve as a role model for veterans’ courts nationwide.

Reminder: Family Court-Appointed Attorneys

From the Court Administrator's Office

All attorneys and Guardian Ad Litems on the court-appointed lists in juvenile delinquency, Children’s Bureau, termination of parental rights, and adoption cases must, beginning on January 1, 2011, annually receive three (3) hours of CLE credits devoted to juvenile delinquency court, the Child Protective Services Law on abuse, or the Adoption Act on terminations and adoptions. Proof of these CLE credits must be submitted to the Family Court Administrator.

Theme by Danetsoft and Danang Probo Sayekti inspired by Maksimer