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Secret court docket in Nassau is ‘troubling,’ top judge says

The state’s chief administrative judge on Thursday called the maintenance of a secret docket of cases by judges and court employees in Nassau County “a troubling practice” that he has put under active review.

The comments by Judge Lawrence K. Marks came after a Newsday story Monday about decisions by some local judges that have hidden the existence of at least nine cases from the public.

The story said Nassau judges’ sealing of case numbers has made it impossible for clerks to reference the actions on the court’s public dockets.

While it’s unknown how many cases received such treatment, the story said at least nine cases were listed on a courthouse computer as secretly docketed due to “security reasons.”

The lack of a public case number means residents cannot know the names of involved parties, the judge or even the type of complaint.

“Clearly the sealing of index and docket numbers is a troubling practice,” Marks said in a statement. “We are actively considering all available administrative options that we may have as relates to that situation.”

Marks’ statement came hours after a Nassau County Legis. Laura Curran (D-Baldwin), who is running for county executive, sent a letter to Marks requesting “an immediate investigation” into what she called a “disturbing” practice.

“I believe my constituents, and all Nassau County residents, are entitled to know whether court cases are being hidden from public view, how many such cases exist, the nature of those cases, the justices who are concealing cases from the public, and why this practice is permitted,” Curran wrote.

State Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove), who also is running for county executive, expressed concern about the secret docket.

Another Democratic county executive candidate, County Comptroller George Maragos, called the report of a secret docket “outrageous.”

The federal appellate court with jurisdiction over New York found in 2004 that secret dockets in Connecticut violated the public’s constitutional right to court access.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, which includes Alabama, Florida and Georgia, has twice found secret dockets unconstitutional.

Cases secretly docketed in Connecticut and Florida have involved a prominent corporate CEO, a congressman, a state college president and Clarence Clemons, the late saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen’s band.

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