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Who's a Rat Federal Judge Memo, 2006

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Judicial Conference
Committee on
Court Administration and
Case Management

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tit

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John R. Tunheim
Chair

Judicial Conference
Committee
on
Criminal Law
Paul Cassell
Chair

November 9, 2006

MEMORANDUM
To:

From:

Judges, United StatesDistrict Courts
United StatesMagistrate Judges

John R. Tunheim,Chair

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Committee on Court Admmistration and Case Management

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Paul Cassell, Chair
Committee on Criminal Law
RE:

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WEBSITE POSTING INFORMATION ON CRIMINAL CASE COOPERA nON

We are writing to you in our capacities as Chairs of two Judicial Conference
Committees: the Court Administration and Case Management Committee, and the
Criminal Law Committee. Pursuant to our Committees' responsibilities regarding
criminal case files, we are writing to alert you to an Internet site that purports to identify
informants in criminal cases. The website, www.whosarat.com. uses publicly available
information from many sources, including state and federal court case files, to identify
undercover law enforcement personnel and persons suspected of cooperating with law
enforcement.
A quick review of the site shows many electronic documents from federal court
case files. Some of them appear to be downloaded from the courts' electronic case files
system; others appear to be scanned versions of documents from paper files. While it is
important to maintain public access to the courts' case files, it is equally important to
ensure that the information that is publicly accessible does not endanger any case
participants. Therefore, we recommend that judges consider sealing documents or
hearing transcripts in accordance with applicable law in cases that involve sensitive
information or in cases in which incorrect inferences may be made. The decision to seal

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Website Posting Information on Criminal Case Cooperation

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may extend beyond the obvious documents, such as plea agreements. Some documents
contained on the website do not, from their titles, appear to include information that
would reveal cooperation; however, the body of the document does contain the
information (e.g., a motion to reschedule a sentencing hearing).
We also remind you that the Judicial Conference has established policies regarding
the information in the criminal case files. At its March 2001 session, the Judicial
Conference approved a policy restricting the routine public disclosure of the statement of
reasons. (JCUS-MAR 01, p. 17.) In an August 13,2001, memorandum regarding the
Conference's policy, the Administrative Office notified the courts that "the statement of
reasons should no longer be filed, stamped, docketed, or placed in the public file by the
clerk's office." The memorandum may be accessed on the J-Net at
http://inet.ao.dcnlimg/assets/4545/dirl-069.pdf. Additionally, the Judicial Conference
policy on Privacy and Public Access to Electronic Case Files sets forth specific guidance
on public access to documents in the criminal case file. It is available on the J-Net at
http://inet.ao.dcn/it/ecf/ecfprivacy.html. Section III of the guidance for criminal case files
specifically advises courts to "assess whether privacy or law enforcement concerns, or
other good cause, justify filing the document under seal."
Our Committees have been informed of, but have not yet received, a letter from
the Department of Justice (DOJ) about the Internet site. We understand that the letter
may ask for specific action from the Judicial Conference on this matter. We look forward
to working with DOJ on this important issue, and both our Committees are prepared to
consider its requests. In the meantime, we thought it best to alert you to the situation.
cc:

Federal Public/Community Defenders
Clerks, United States District Courts
Chief Probation Officers
Chief Pretrial Services Officers

 

 

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