Pennsylvania's Superior Court creates website for cases of public interest

Success of a Centre County webpage that posted motions, filings, orders in Jerry Sandusky case inspired shift online

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The public and members of the media will soon be able to access court filings and dispositions of "cases of important public interest" that go before the state Superior Court, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts has announced.

In a press release, the AOPC announced a new "media and public information" page has been added to the intermediate appellate court's website as of last week.

The release noted the initiative stemmed from the success of a similar page on Centre County's website, which posted motions, other filings and orders in the sex-abuse trial of Jerry Sandusky.

As of last week afternoon, no cases had been posted to the new webpage, which can be viewed at www.superior.court.state.pa.us.

"The Superior Court understands the importance of easy access to court filings in cases of public interest," President Judge Correale F. Stevens said in the release.

"The web page that the Centre County court created for the Commonwealth v. Sandusky case was widely used and has served as an example for what we hope to accomplish on our website."

Judge Stevens said the web page would also feature cases that don't fit into the "high-profile" category.

On the civil side of things, for example, Judge Stevens said the website would include class action suits and cases with an "unusual legal interest."

But it will not have daily activity, Judge Stevens said, as opposed to the page on which the court posts its precedential opinions.

Rather, the decision to post matters will come on a "case-by-case basis," and the court will use press inquiries as a gauge of interest. The court will also post matters of its own volition.

While every court filing the Superior Court receives is public record, aside from those filed under seal, reporters or members of the public generally need to go to the court's offices in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh or Philadelphia to obtain the records, or call the lawyers who filed them.

The website, for the cases the court elects to post, would remove that step.

Judge Stevens also added that the new web page could lead to the circulation of more non-precedential memorandum opinions. If a case that has been deemed important to the public is decided in a memorandum, the media and public page would automatically feature that opinion.

Some appellate practitioners have publicly called for the court to publish its memorandum opinions, as the Commonwealth Court does.

As for publishing all of those opinions, Judge Stevens said, "The issue is not dead," and the court is "continuing to move toward the direction of publication."

When the court voted in 2009 not to publish the opinions, Judge Stevens said it was "a very close vote."

For Shira Goodman, the deputy director of Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts, last week's announcement of the website was a positive step for the intermediate appellate court.

Ms. Goodman questioned whether the court would take suggestions from public interest groups -- like PMC -- and environmental groups as to which cases to include.

"It will get people more interested in what happens in the court [and] let people know more of what we do," she said.

"Some people will read it and say, 'this isn't the sexy stuff I thought it was, but at least it's there," Ms. Goodman said.

legalnews

Ben Present: bpresent@alm.com or 215-557-2315. To read more articles like this, visit www.thelegalintelligencer.com.


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