a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Monday, September 27, 2010

We are lucky to have open courts

Ukraine newspaper journalist Svitlana Vyunychenko, seat, left, inspects court records today at the office of District Judge Robert Redlinger in Washington, Pa., with her interpreter, Kostiantyn Iakovlier, and Eleeza V. Agopian of IREX in Washington, D.C. Vyunychenko is in the area as part of a newspaper exchange with the Observer-Reporter. (Beveridge photo)

This is one of those days that reminds me just how lucky I am to have been born in the United States, where our Constitution provides for open courts and freedom of the press.

It was the surprised look on the face of a visiting foreign newspaper journalist that reminded me of that while I showed her around the Washington County, Pa., courts, where obtaining public records is so, so much less troublesome than calling any private American utility to report a problem with a bill or services.

In Svitlana Vyuncychenko's homeland of the Ukraine, reporters face long delays and sometimes have to pay for public records that don't always explain much about why an alleged criminal has been arrested, she explains. There is a jail cell before the panel of judges there to hold the suspect when he or she appears before the court, often years after the arrest, she added.

Here in the U.S., we just asked a court official to see an arrest record explaining the case police have against a suspect. It's usually that easy, and even less of a problem when progressive courts make such records available on the web.

"Fantastic," Vyuncychenko says, reacting to this kind of access.

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