For at least the past two years, Fiona Apple has served as a volunteer court watcher, virtually watching proceedings in Maryland in order to ensure criminal justice accountability. Now, with the National Courtwatch Network set to expand its reach, Apple has provided narration and the score for a PSA about the importance of court watching.
In the animated short film, Apple describes her experience virtually watching what seems like a routine bail hearing, though the ruling could have a lasting impact on the defendant’s life. “Within two days of someone’s arrest, they are brought before a judge like this one, who will decide if they are released or incarcerated in jail while their case proceeds,” Apple says atop her unmistakable piano playing.
“These decisions could mean life or death, and they are made within minutes, with little information. All over the country, thousands of people go through these hearings each day, as if in a national assembly line of injustice. But in a growing number of places, people are beginning to hold actors accountable by showing up in court and documenting what they see.”
In an interview with the Washington Post Wednesday, Apple added, “Court watching is really the gateway to a better community, a better world, because it will make you care. It makes you care about people you don’t know. And we need more of that. We really need more of that.”
In October, Apple and her colleagues were part of a lawsuit filed by nine plaintiffs alleging that judges in Prince George’s County often unlawfully passed off cases to a pretrial services division that determined whether a person would remain incarcerated as they awaited trial. As retribution for the legal action, the court “took our fucking Zoom access away,” Apple said in a series of videos at the time.
Apple previously also skipped the 2021 Grammys – where she won two awards – in order to shine a light on the importance of court watching. “They’re trying to shut us out, and you gotta question it. Like, why are you trying to shut us out? What don’t you want us to see?” Apple said in her social media “acceptance speech.”
“There’s people who are being held pretrial on nonviolent charges on bonds they can’t afford, or no bond; and it’s ruining families and fucking with futures that we need to help protect.”