Judges Consider Sealing Files On Cooperating Witnesses


There are three “rats of the week” on the home page of whosarat.com, a Web site that exposes identities of witnesses cooperating with the government, the New York Times reports. The site posts names and mug shots, with court documents detailing what they have agreed to do in exchange for lenient sentences. Said a spokesman for the site: “Everybody has a choice in life about what they want to do for a living. Nobody likes a tattletale.” The Justice Department wants the federal courts to by removing plea agreements from online court files, whether involving cooperating witnesses or not. The department said sites like whosarat.com exist “for the clear purpose of witness intimidation, retaliation and harassment.”

The federal court in Miami has provisionally adopted the department's recommendation to remove plea agreements from electronic files. Judge John Tunheim of Minneapolis, chairman of a U.S. Judicial Conference committee studying the issue, acknowledged the gravity of the safety threat posed by the Web sites but said it would be better addressed through case-by-case actions. He favors putting the details of a witness's cooperation into a separate document and sealing only that document, or withholding it from the court file.

Link: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/22/washington/22plea.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

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