Disbarred Miami attorney Louis Robles was to accept a plea deal for 10 years in prison and $13 million in restitution to former clients whose money he took. The previous week, reports the Daily Business Review, his bond was abruptly revoked, and U.S. District Judge Alan Gold threw him back in jail because Robles’ girlfriend warned his probation officer that Robles had hired a pilot and was planning to flee the country. No one outside the case knew about these key developments until a week after he was arrested. The probation officer’s petition for bond revocation, the arrest warrant, and other key documents were kept off the federal Southern District of Florida court Web site. That was done in apparent violation of U.S. Judicial Conference rules.
The move distressed Miami defense lawyers and First Amendment experts, who are concerned about an escalating trend of keeping a variety of documents off the electronic docket. The Robles case is the latest example of a controversy over what federal court documents to make available over the Internet, which ones to make available in paper form only at the courthouse and which to seal outright. The national debate was largely prompted by the launch of whosarat.com, which posts plea agreements and the names of cooperating witnesses and undercover agents. Judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers have expressed concern that some information disseminated online could be used to retaliate against informants or hurt prosecutors’ cases. First Amendment and criminal defense lawyers cite the trend to keep information about court cases from the public.