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The Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts is not an “agency” subject to the demands of the Freedom of Information Act, an Eastern District of New York judge has ruled in a case seeking information about funds held by the courts. Judge Nicholas Garaufis dismissed the suit, brought against the director of the Administrative Office, Leonidas Ralph Mecham, and Eastern District Chief Clerk Robert C. Heinemann, which sought access to a list of funds being held by the court in pending or adjudicated cases. The funds, known as “registry funds,” are tracked by the Court Registry Investment System (CRIS). Like other chief clerks whose courts participate in the system, Heinemann regularly receives CRIS Liquidity Reports, which state the balance of funds that are either deposited in the U.S. Treasury registry or placed in interest-bearing accounts during a court action. The plaintiff in Wayne Seminoff Co. v. Mecham, 02-CV-2445, is a self-described legal research firm that specializes in finding what Garaufis described as “older or stalled cases, where litigants have failed to withdraw funds deposited with the court.” The firm charges a consulting fee for locating the funds and filing the paperwork needed to complete the funds’ return to the rightful owner. Wayne Seminoff filed suit seeking to force the Administrative Office and Heinemann to provide copies of the CRIS Liquidity Reports under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. � 552. He also made a claim based on the common-law right to inspect judicial documents. With � 552(a)(3)(A) of FOIA requiring that each “agency” must provide records to the public, and the Administrative Procedure Act excluding the courts of the United States from the term “agency,” Seminoff argued that the exclusion applied only to courts and not to the judicial branch as a whole. Judge Garaufis noted that the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the exclusion applies to the Judicial Conference of the United States, but the issue of whether or not the exclusion applies to the Administrative Office was one of first impression. In First Fidelity Mortgage Investors v. The Administrative Office of the United States Courts, 690 F.2d 35 (1982), the 2nd Circuit said it was clear that Congress intended to exclude the “entire judicial branch” from the provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act. The circuit also found the functions of the Judicial Conference “were integrated with the functions of the courts,” and therefore, the Judicial Conference was not subject to the act, noted Judge Garaufis. “Fidelity’s reasoning and logic applies with equal force to the issue at hand,” he said, adding that it is “undisputed” that the Administrative Office is part of the judiciary and the office performs tasks that otherwise might be left to judges. After finding that the Administrative Office is not an agency for purposes of FOIA, Garaufis dismissed the case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The judge also rejected Seminoff’s claim based on the common-law right of access to judicial records. He said that the CRIS reports, as described by Seminoff, are not “judicial documents” because they are “not used to determine a party’s substantive rights.” “Instead, the CRIS Reports are used to assist the court in ACCOUNTING for a party’s funds,” he said. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kathleen Anne Mahoney represented Mecham and Heinemann. Richard Alan Klass represented the plaintiff.

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