Responding to a controversial Web site that exposes the identities of defendants who have agreed to cooperate with authorities, the federal judges in Philadelphia have adopted a plan designed to make it impossible for visitors to the court’s Web site to learn whether a defendant is cooperating, reports the Legal Intelligencer. The new protocol is a reaction to the Who’s a Rat Web site, www.whosarat.com, and will result in a modification of the docketing of sentencing and plea documents in all criminal cases.
Chief U.S. District Judge Harvey Bartle III said that under the current system, users of the court’s Web site were able to discern which defendants had entered into agreements to cooperate either by viewing the plea agreement documents or simply noting that those documents were under seal. The fact that such documents were sealed was a “red flag” that could lead to the exposure of the cooperatng defendant, he said. To fix the problem, the court decided to restrict access to all sentencing and plea documents in all criminal cases — regardless of whether the defendant is cooperating. “Those documents will still be publicly available in the courthouse for anyone who wants to come here and see them — provided they are not under seal — but you will not be able to sit back in your armchair and gain access to them,” Bartle said. The Southern District of Florida recently adopted a similar plan.