Liz McCurry Johnson’s papers featured in Legal Information & Technology eJournal

Photo of Professor Liz McCurry Johnson, Legal Reference Librarian at Wake Forest School of Law

Liz McCurry Johnson, a reference librarian and member of the law school’s Legal Analysis, Writing and Research (LAWR) faculty, has two papers, ”The Practical Obscurity of the Green Screen Terminal: A Case Study on Accessing Jury Selection Data” and ”LexisNexis Risk Management v. N.C. A.O.C: How the N.C. Supreme Court Gutted Open Access in 2016,”   featured in the Legal Information & Technology eJournal and published in Vol. 9 No. 9 of the eJournal on March 8, 2017.

Following is the abstract from “The Practical Obscurity of the Green Screen Terminal: A Case Study on Accessing Jury Selection Data”:

Who should care more about who jury members are – the criminal defendant facing one or the public who is the watchful eyes over the government prosecutions? The answer is both, and equally. This Article is part of a series of papers that fill a substantial gap in the literature of jury selection by providing a positive, personal account with field data on how litigates pick a jury – the building of a robust and immense data set of jury selections for felony charges disposed of by jury verdict. One reason that litigates and scholars have not previously marshaled a clear understanding of jury selection realities is that the data has been surprisingly amorphous. A series of obstacles – legal, technological, organizational – meet at a crosshair to block researchers and obscure careful analysis. This Article describes the surprising challenges that scholars face from courthouse failings in office policies to the ongoing use of out-of-date technology and litigation that flies in the face of open access. It further explains novel research techniques innovated to meet those challenges and reflects on why it might be that our government generally lets this particular public record information go dormant.

While most hold the decisions made within the courtroom in the highest regard, very little is actually known of the jury selection process. Theories and best practices engulf the academy and practicing bar, but only those entrenched in the courthouse can answer who is actually seated and who is excluded. The robust literature and academic discussions on the normative aspect of jury selection neglect these key empirical issues that government public records should be able to answer. An answer, the data, is key to the public trust of the government bodies, such as the judicial system, to open for inspection the decisions that are easily disposed of. This Article blazes the trail of data collection in jury selection.

And from the “LexisNexis Risk Management v. N.C. A.O.C: How the N.C. Supreme Court Gutted Open Access in 2016,” which is forthcoming and will be published in the Wake Forest Journal of Law and Policy in 2017, following is the abstract:

In August 2015, the North Carolina Supreme Court made a substantial misstep. While understanding how the court came to its decision through very academic and thoughtful considerations, the court unintentionally closed the door to obtaining copies of the Automated Criminal/Infractions System (“ACIS”) database of criminal records data, and it further stepped away from North Carolina’s long-standing public records laws promoting government transparency. The North Carolina legislature has long protected the rights of journalists and researchers, including the one-off researcher’s request, to inspect and examine any government-related file provided under the North Carolina Public Records Act, sections 132-1–132.11 of the North Carolina General Statutes (“N.C. Gen. Stat.”) (hereinafter collectively referred to as “Public Records Act”). While the North Carolina Supreme Court may have wanted to limit the repackaging and exploitation of free records from a vendor, it interpreted the statutes so narrowly that they now preclude any access to the data in the aggregate, creating a gap that directly affects innocent third parties, such as the journalists, the researchers, and the investigators looking to improve government practice and policies.

By allowing this greater limitation to accessing court records in the aggregate, the North Carolina Supreme Court has made research into public accountability virtually impossible. Not having access to records in the aggregate promotes the perception of government secrecy and supports a lack of motivation to self-report or self-manage the court process, a process that is ensured by the North Carolina Constitution and is necessary to protect individuals’ rights.

The first section of this Article outlines the lineage of LexisNexis Risk Data Management, Inc. v. North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (“LexisNexis v. N.C. A.O.C.”), where LexisNexis Data Management, Inc., and LexisNexis Risk Solutions, Inc. (hereinafter collectively referred to as “LexisNexis”), were precluded from obtaining a copy of the ACIS database of criminal records maintained by the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts (“N.C. A.O.C.”), a violation of the Public Records Act. In the next parts, this Article includes a case study that exemplifies the process currently in place to obtain criminal records in the aggregate — the Jury Sunshine Project — sponsored by Wake Forest University School of Law professors. The Article concludes with an argument that by adding a more narrow subsection to a broad public records law, the North Carolina Supreme Court is functionally impeding any efforts for instituting public accountability within the criminal justice system.