The Supreme Court has recognized a common-law right “to inspect and copy public records and documents, including judicial records and documents.”Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978) (footnote omitted). The Third Circuit agreed, finding that in both civil and criminal cases “the existence of a common law right of access to … inspect judicial records is beyond dispute.” Publicker Indus., Inc. v. Cohen, 733 F.2d 1059, 1066 (3rd Cir. 1984). Many lower courts have recognized a constitutional right to court records as well. For example, the Second Circuit noted that it was following other circuits in “constru[ing] the constitutional right of access to apply to written documents submitted in connection with judicial proceedings that themselves implicate the right of access.” In re New York Times Co., 828 F.2d 110, 114 (2nd Cir. 1987) (citations omitted); see also In re Providence Journal Co., 293 F.3d 1, 10 (1st Cir. 2002) (“this constitutional [access] right … extends to documents and kindred materials submitted in connection with the prosecution and defense of criminal proceedings”) (quoting Globe Newspaper Co. v. Pokaski, 868 F.2d 497, 502 (1st Cir.1989)); Associated Press v. District Court, 705 F.2d 1143, 1145 (9th Cir. 1983) (“the public and press have a first amendment right of access to pretrial documents in general”).
In general criminal court records are public in Maine pursuant to Administrative Order JB-05-20 (A. 5-09) “Public Information and Confidentiality,” which provides: “Information and records relating to cases that are maintained in case files, dockets, indices, lists, or schedules by and at the District, Superior, or Supreme Judicial Courts are generally public and access will be provided to a person who requests to inspect them or have copies made by the clerk’s office staff unless the information or a part of it is confidential . . . .” Id. § III(A)(1).
“Although under appropriate circumstances a court may impound records when publication would impede the administration of justice, the power of impoundment should be exercised with extreme care and only upon the clearest showing of necessity.” Maine Auto Dealers Assn. v. Tierney, 425 A.2d 187, 189 n.3 (Me.1981) (citation omitted).
In a Maine Superior Court case involving access to criminal court records, a Superior Court Justice considered whether to allow access to records of a bindover hearing to determine whether two juveniles arraigned in Juvenile Court on murder charges would be bound over for trial as adults in Superior Court. In re Am. Journal, 1986 Me. Super. LEXIS 347 (Me. Super. Ct. Dec. 3, 1986). The Court reversed an earlier order to impound the bindover hearing, the Court’s findings related to the hearing, findings in a Superior Court bail hearing, and ordered that the complete files “be opened to the public and the media forthwith.” Id. at *9-*10.