Tuesday, August 06, 2013

 

Disappeared News (un)-invited to (de) Occupy lawsuit status conference


by Larry Geller

(updated below at 10:35)

It’s no big deal really, just disappointing. A status conference was scheduled for 9:15 this morning in Courtroom 8. Status conferences are usually shirt-sleeve affairs (no black robes) where the parties and the judge just figure out some matter of scheduling or how the Court will handle some motions, and so forth. The press almost never attends.

So there I was, sitting in the peanut gallery by my lonesome. Judge Chang asked me who I was. Finally, both attorneys were present—one for (de) Occupy and two for the City. The judge then lead them out a side door, presumably to his chambers.

Status conferences are frequently held in chambers, and it indicates that on the calendar. Sometimes a status conference is held entirely on the phone. So there’s nothing wrong or unusual in doing either. Only that Courtroom 8 is a perfectly good courtroom (elegant, really—Koa wood and white marble walls, perfect air conditioning and a good sound system…). It’s not like they were going off to a judge’s chambers to kick off the slippers and break open a few beers. (The beer is just a hypothetical, as the lingo goes.) No, Courtroom 8 would have been a perfectly good place to hold their conference.

Except for one Disappeared News blogger in the front row center.

So I left. The door latched shut behind me, the courtroom was locked. I waited on a bench with a view of the elevators, but after a while figured I would likely not learn anything anyway, and so I headed home. If the intent was to keep the meeting off the record, neither attorney nor judge would say anything to me about what transpired.

While most status conferences have little of interest to the media or the public, in this case, the (de) Occupy encampment had just been raided twice, once at 11 p.m. and then at about 4 a.m. There could well be a change in plans based on what the attorneys want to do under the new circumstances. The City has also filed a brief with the Court saying (in gross paraphrase) that they have not violated the law.

Most of a trial is held in public view. Of course, the judge often calls attorneys to the bench for mini-conferences that no one can hear, but mostly, the public is supposed to have access to the process. Status conferences are simply so unimportant (usually) that media won’t attend. On the other hand, much of what was important during the Felix Consent Decree was decided in chambers, no public present, for the entire decade-plus duration of the decree.

There should be minutes posted, but even so, much can be kept off the record.

If I can learn anything, you’ll read it here.


Update (10:35):

Status Conference held on 8/6/2013. Further Status Conference set 8/13/13 at 11:00am before Judge Chang. (In Chambers - no record, 9:15-9:45am.)

Yup, off the record entirely. “No record” doesn’t mean that nothing was discussed, of course. A half-hour talk is already a sign of significant issues to be worked out.



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