Federal clerks provide inaccurate info on court documents

From ColoradoWatchdog.org:  Federal law clearly says that payment vouchers to outside attorneys acting as public defenders should be available to the taxpayers who pay those bills — especially after all legal appeals are exhausted.

After a case is complete, the “court shall make available to the public an unredacted copy of the expense voucher,” Title 18 3006A states in Section D.

But when Watchdog.org asked for the vouchers in the case of multiple-convicted-murderer Nathan Dunlap, a clerk answering the phone and a different employee at the clerk’s office both said those CJA vouchers are never public. Trying to access them on the court’s public records system, PACER, yielded only the phrase “You do not have permission to view this document.”

Dunlap exhausted all of his appeals two years ago, but the records were not readily available.

Only after appealing to the head clerk Jeffrey Colwell was Watchdog.org able to get a summary of expenses for Dunlap’s case. That summary resulted in a story uncovering nearly $200,000 charged to taxpayers for attorneys, consultants, professors and even a PR person up to two years after the U.S. Supreme Court turned down Dunlap’s final appeal.

Gregg Leslie, legal defense director at the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said courts often make their own rules even when there’s a federal law.

“Unfortunately, it is a fact that court administrators do things the way they want,” he said. “If Congress enacted a law, they should not have a practice that is counter to that.”

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