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April 2007

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This article is in the news archives --- for current news go to the Third Branch News.


Legislation Update: Bills Focus on Security, Cameras and Patents

Legislation affecting the federal Judiciary was introduced in the first few months of the 110th Congress.

Court Security Bills

Identical bills to improve federal court security have been introduced in the House and Senate. The “Court Security Improvement Act of 2007,” S. 378, was introduced on January 24, 2007 by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee. On the same day in the House, Representative John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced an identical bill as H.R. 660.

Both bills include provisions that would create new penalties for the malicious filing of fictitious liens, and a requirement that the U.S. Marshals Service consult with the Judicial Conference on matters relating to court security.

The bills also would authorize the Judicial Conference to redact sensitive information from judges’ financial disclosure forms. “This expired redaction authority,” said Leahy in a statement, “was used in circumstances in which the release of the information could endanger the filer or the filer’s family. I hope we can reinstate and expand this much needed redaction authority.”

In a statement submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee at its February 14, 2007 hearing on Judicial Security and Independence, Judge D. Brock Hornby (D. Me), chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on the Judicial Branch, expressed appreciation to the sponsors of the court security bill and stated that the bill would contribute significantly to the security of federal judges and their families. [See the March 2007 issue of The Third Branch.]

Although the House and Senate bills were introduced as identical legislation, the Senate Judiciary Committee later approved an amendment to S. 378, which wasintroduced by Senator John Kyl (R-AZ) and co-sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), that would transfer a judgeship from the District of Columbia Circuit to the Ninth Circuit.

Cameras in Courtrooms

Two bills have been introduced in the Senate that would allow cameras in federal courts. One bill, S. 344, introduced by Senator Arlen Specter (R- PA), would require the televising of Supreme Court proceedings “unless the Justices decide, by majority vote, that such coverage in a particular case would violate the due process rights of one or more of the parties.”

The second Senate bill, S. 352, introduced by Senator Charles E. Grassley (R-IA) is entitled the “Sunshine in the Courtroom Act”. It would allow “the photographing, electronic recording, broadcasting, or televising to the public of any court proceeding over which that judge presides,” at the discretion of the presiding judge of an appellate or district court. The bill contains provisions that would allow the obscuring of non-party witnesses, and would not allow the televising of any juror in a trial proceeding.

A House bill, identical to S. 344, also has been introduced.

Judicial Conference policy allows each court of appeals to decide whether to permit the taking of photographs and radio and television coverage; the Second and Ninth Circuits currently allow such media coverage of appellate proceedings. Conference policy, however, does not permit photograph and broadcast coverage of proceedings in the district courts, and the Conference opposes legislation allowing the use of cameras in federal trial courts. Electronic media coverage of criminal proceedings in federal courts is expressly prohibited under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 53.

Patent Case Assignment Pilot Program

The House passed H.R. 34 in mid-February, a bill that would establish a pilot program in at least five U.S. district courts “to encourage enhancement of expertise in patent cases among district judges.” The bill is now pending in the Senate.

Introducing the legislation, Representative Darrell E. Issa (R-CA) said that, “The core intent of this pilot is to steer patent cases to judges that have the desire and aptitude to hear patent cases, while preserving random assignment as much as possible.” The pilot program would terminate in 10 years, and periodic studies would occur to determine its success. Under the legislation, the Director of the Administrative Office would designate “not less than 5 United States district courts, in at least 3 different judicial circuits” to participate in the pilot program, choosing the courts “from among the 15 district courts in which the largest number of patent and plant variety protection cases were filed in the most recent calendar year.”

The Judicial Conference has not taken a position on the patent pilot project legislation; however, the Conference has a long-standing position favoring the random assignment of federal cases filed.

Last Congress, the House passed the same bill where it enjoyed bipartisan support and backing from many intellectual property associations. H.R. 34 is now pending in the Senate.