Monday, December 21, 2009
Nonprofit Group Offers Free Judicial Profiles Online at Judgepedia.com
By a MetNews Staff Writer
These days you can find just about anything online for free. No-cost maps, music, movies and books are all at the fingertips of the average Internet user.
But Leslie Graves, president of the Madison, Wis.-based Lucy Burns Institute, says she noticed that “there wasn’t much information freely available on the Internet” about the nation’s courts and judges.
She recalls trying to find information about several federal bankruptcy judges, only to find that profiles about these federal judges were not included on the Federal Judicial Center website. The same was true about federal magistrate judges.
“I figure[d] that lots of people would be interested in information about judges, when judges are in the news or are ruling on a case of interest,” she says.
And so she came up with Judgepedia.com, a user-generated encyclopedia about America’s courts and judges, which is sponsored by her organization—a nonprofit named for the co-founder of the National Woman’s Party, which identifies the compilation and creation of public resources to increase accessibility to public records as its mission.
“My hope was that a fair, neutral online resource about judges and courts be built—much in the same way that Ballotpedia strives to be that resource for ballot measures and WikiFOIA for state sunshine laws,” Graves said, referring to the other two sites her group runs.
Judgepedia has articles about all 338 state supreme court justices and courts, and more than 900 state intermediate appellate judges in the 40-some states that have an intermediate appellate court system, including California, Graves says.
“I thought a wiki format would be ideal since it makes it so easy to expand, improve and enrich information over time,” she explains. “It also allows co-creation and collaboration on articles, which can take the edge of any bias anyone might bring to the table.”
The site requires users to register before they can edit an article, but they can use a screen name that is not their real name. Graves estimates that Judgepedia gets about 200 to 300 edits a day, “which means that we are able to screen all new edits to the site to make sure they are reasonable.”
As of mid-October, Graves says the site has 392 users who have signed up and contributed content.
“One concern people had when I first started talking about JP a few years ago is that any such project would inevitably be a magnet for people who had a bone to pick with a judge, and probably not for a good reason,” she admits, but she says it has only happened on two occasions in the past six months.
“We check all new additions to the site within 24 hours and remove material that is unsourced, sourced but from what we judge to be an unreliable source, unfairly presented, unbalanced, etc.” she says, adding that if it “ever got to the point where we couldn’t keep vandalism off the site, I’d feel morally obliged to shut it down.”
Graves discloses that a federal district judge had contacted the site about an article which contained a news summary about a ruling he had made in 2006.
“The judge said that the news article, which came from a leading state newspaper, didn’t get the complicated facts of the case quite right and asked us if we could adjust that entry to reflect the case more accurately,” she explains. After reviewing the case, she said the staff agreed with the judge’s position and changed the entry.
“We’re happy to get calls like that and when we do, we are not going to issue public announcements about who the judge or court official was or what they wanted,” she says. “I’m glad we’re small enough as a project to be able to make adjustments like that.”
The website only employs one full-time person, whose background is in wiki management and public information, not the law, Graves says. But that employee is assisted by law student interns and several part-time assistant staff writers who are college students, and the site also has various volunteer editors, she adds.
Graves laments that “too many of our articles are just stubs and I yearn for the day when we have much, much more useful information about courts, judges, court administration, judicial elections and so on.”
She says she wants Judgepedia “to be the ESPN of American courts and judges,” adding that the site is “chugging away toward that goal.”
By next year Graves says she hopes the website will be tracking the judicial elections for state intermediate appellate judges.
For now, the site offers more information on California’s federal bench than the state courts, and many profiles contain little more than basic biographical information.
The most developed include discussions of the judge’s judicial “style”—such as Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski’s reputation for “libertarian inclinations,” and for being “witty” and “acerbic”—as well as notable cases before that judge.
The site has profiles of the California Supreme Court justices, including several past members of the state high court, as well as each appellate court justice and Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard A. Paez and Senior Judge Arthur L. Alarcon.
Several judges from the Central District of California—including U.S. District Judges Lourdes Baird, Florence-Marie Cooper, Cormac Carney, Gary Feess, Dale Fischer, Philip S. Gutierrez, Terry J. Hatter Jr, Robert Klausner, James Otero, Otis Wright and George Wu—have profiles, as do Senior Judges Ronald Lew and Consuelo B. Marshall.
Profiles for now-deceased District Judges Robert Takasugi, Edward Rafeedie, Linda Hodge McLaughlin, Peirson Mitchell Hall, Richard Arthur Gadbois, William J. Rea, and David Williams are also available.
Former U.S. District Court Judges Lourdes Baird, George P. Schiavelli and Dickran M. Tevrizian Jr. also have profiles, along with U.S. District Court Judge-Designate Jacquelyn Nguyen.
While the 400-plus judges of the Los Angeles Superior Court are listed on the site by name, they do not yet have extended profiles available.
Although the site was Graves’ idea, Judgepedia was originally launched in 2007 by the Chicago-based nonprofit Sam Adams Alliance—which identifies its mission as the advancement of economic freedom and individual liberty through the use of new media tools, such as wiki pages.
As Graves was “really busy at that time with WikIFOIA,” she says she did not think she could take on a project the size of Judgpedia.
“[T]he idea of taking on that much work with my limited administrative experience was, while not exactly overwhelming, just seemed beyond my ken,” she admits.
But Graves stayed involved in the project as a volunteer and then a consultant.
In March 2009, when the founding editor of the Judgepedia project left the Sam Adams Alliance, a staff member from Graves’ group stepped in as editor, which ultimately led to the decision to cede sponsorship to the Lucy Burns Institute in July.
Even though the site boasts over 2 million page views to date, Graves insists that it is “still in its infancy.”
For example, she says the site’s recently created article about California’s Administrative Office of the Courts “could be much expanded, and it would also be informative to California readers if the articles on its key personnel, such as William Vickrey, were expanded over time.”
She suggests that the state’s financial crisis, court closures and layoffs “make people who wouldn’t ordinarily think twice about the judicial system want to know what is really going on behind the scenes,” and that she intended Judgepedia to provide a “comprehensive picture…of all these things.”
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company