The New York Civil Liberties Union learned about the Office of Court Administration’s practice of issuing secret directives to judges instructing them on how to interpret court decisions affecting important constitutional rights. In response, the NYCLU submitted a FOIL and expressed serious concerns about this practice, requesting that the OCA provide copies of all memos of this type issued over the last ten years. That request was denied, and as a result the NYCLU is challenging that denial and continuing its pursuit of administrative policies impacting judicial determinations that have enormous consequences for those at the mercy of the courts.
The agency’s refusal to release these memoranda does a disservice to the public’s interest in the transparent administration of justice and violates the Freedom of Information Law, federal common law, and the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The practice recently came to light with the revelation of an OCA memo, marked “confidential,” instructing judges to adopt a restrictive reading of an important court decision safeguarding the due process rights of New Yorkers. The OCA is the administrative arm of the court system, tasked with overseeing the operations, staffing, and day-to-day support of New York’s courts. However, it was reported that the OCA has been going beyond issuing administrative guidance.