Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Minnesota Supreme Court decides who the public is for hearing----its not you or me

Last week I spoke with Don Gemberling, a volunteer with Minnesota Coalition on Government Information. (MNCOGI)  I said to him I got the legal briefs for the Timberjay v Johnson Controls case which the Minnesota Supreme Court will hear on May 6, 2013. I said I was very much looking forward to attend.  He then stated bad news.  The public is not allowed to attend the hearing.  I reacted, What!  Gemberling said he received a media advisory from the Supreme Court saying the court hearing was to be at Roseville High School, but there was no detail how the public can attend.  He then got the message the hearing is not open to the general public based on correspondence he had with Court personnel.

I thought what the Minnesota Supreme Court stated to Mr. Gemberling was nonsense and illogical.  To keep the public from going to a court hearing.

A principle I strongly believe is the right to an open court principle, or the right of the public to have access and to view their judicial system. Today, the Minnesota Supreme Court is not honoring that principle.

I wanted to go to the Timberjay hearing because of the major issue of importance the case will decide.  Basically the point of discussion is: Whether or not data collected, created, received, and maintained by a private person which is doing a government duty or function comes under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

I decided to call Jeff Shorba, Minnesota State Court Administrator and Dawn Torgerson, Deputy State Court Administrator and find out about this bad policy of not allowing the general public access to attend the hearing.  Left voice mails.  I did get a response from Lissa Finne, Court Information Officer via email indicating that the hearing at Roseville High School is part of the Supreme Court Traveling Oral Argument program.  Ms. Finne did not answer the question I left with Mr. Shorba and Ms. Torgerson, How can the general public and I attend the hearing on May 6th?

The response I got from Ms. Finne after leaving her a message and sending an email was very doublespeak.  She sent me back an email stating the Court is not excluding the public from the hearing.  The email also stated that "members of the public who are unable to attend for personal reasons or because the courtroom (Roseville High School auditorium) is full" can watch it on web cast or online.  But this is where the nonsense took a turn for more nonsense.

I then emailed back and stated how can I as a member of the general public get in line to view the court case in person.  It is not open to the general public when there is no opportunity for the public to stand in line to go to the hearing.  The response as follows:

Dear Mr. Neumeister,

Seating for this argument in the auditorium is reserved for the students, faculty and parties.

Lissa Finne

So what does the statement mean in a previous email I received from Ms. Finne that said: "members of the public who are unable to attend for personal reasons or because the courtroom (Roseville High School auditorium) is full"  Who of the public is she's talking about?  I am willing to stand in line at 6:00AM to get a seat.

In other words, there is no opportunity for the general public to attend the argument hearing. The Minnesota Supreme Court closes access to the general public for a case on "public access" to predesignated public. (students, faculty, and parties) The people who the Minnesota Supreme Court chooses.

After I got the last email from Ms. Finne I decided to try again to see if there was a way for the general public to attend.  I called Jeff Shorba asking that he call me.  He did. I stated my concerns and that at least there could be a first come basis seats for the general public.  He stated basically that this is not his bailiwick.  So I asked who's is it?  He suggested that I speak with Commissioner Rita Coyle DeMeules.  I never knew the Minnesota Supreme Court had a Commish!  I spoke with the Commissioner about my concerns and about how I could attend the hearing and there could be some seats for the general public.  She said she would talk to the Court.  She called back and basically stated the Court said no to general public access to the hearing and that I and the general public can view it via web cast.

A public hearing about public access, but general public cannot attend because the people have been preselected as designated as general public by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

While it is commendable that the Court has chosen to hold this hearing on a public access matter before a segment of the public, the public is ill-served if the Court can pick and choose the individuals who can and cannot attend.

I urge the Court to reconsider it's position, and to allow full public access to this hearing as it does for every oral argument at the Judicial Center.

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