Arizona court allows secrecy for some judicial information
ARIZONA — Despite a statute that mandates the release of judicial information to the public, Arizona courts may withhold information if its release might interfere with a criminal investigation, the Court of Appeals in Phoenix ruled in late December.
The ruling stems from a high profile murder investigation of a former girlfriend of Phoenix Suns basketball player Jerrod Mustaf. After the Glendale police and the Maricopa County Attorney executed search warrants, Judge Ronald Reinstein of the Superior Court of Maricopa County sealed the search warrant affidavits after they were served and returned.
Under Arizona law, once the warrant is executed and returned, “such documents and records shall be open to the public as a judicial record.” Phoenix Newspapers requested that the documents be unsealed. Reinstein denied the motion, then released redacted copies of the affidavits, a narrative of facts and property release slips detailing items found during the investigation.
The newspaper appealed in mid-October, arguing that under the statute the trial court did not have jurisdiction to redact the warrants.
The Arizona Court of Appeals ruled in late December that although the phrase “open to the public” is self-explanatory, the meaning of the phrase “as a judicial record” is not so clear and that it must mean something different than simply “open to the public.” The court interpreted that law to mean that “search warrants shall be open to the public to the same degree and in the way or manner that other judicial records are open to the public” and that courts may limit public access to judicial records.
The court also held that a statute which absolutely mandates when a court must release judicial records to the public would be a legislative exercise of the supreme court’s rule-making power in violation of the Arizona Constitution.
(Phoenix Newspapers, Inc. v. Superior Court; Media Counsel: James F. Henderson and Patricia A. Sallen, Phoenix)