Update: On May 6, 2020, California’s Court of Appeal, Second District, denied the Reporters Committee’s request that the Court publish its opinion in Fargo v. Tejas.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has asked California’s Court of Appeal, Second District, to publish its recent opinion in Fargo v. Tejas, in which the Court reversed a trial court’s decision to seal records in a defamation lawsuit.
While the appellate court held that the records in question needed to be unsealed, the Court did not publish its opinion. Unsealed, unpublished opinions such as the one in Fargo v. Tejas are available to the public, though they generally cannot be cited as precedent in future cases.
In a letter filed on May 5, the Reporters Committee argued that there is a strong interest in developing precedent concerning the public’s right to access court records under the First Amendment and common law. The letter cites three main reasons why the Second District Court of Appeals should publish its opinion in Fargo v. Tejas.
First, it speaks to “an apparent conflict in the law,” since earlier cases with similar fact patterns produced divided rulings on what standards to use when deciding whether to seal allegedly defamatory material. The letter also argues that the Court should publish its opinion because it “explains” an “existing rule of law” and because the public has a significant interest in access to judicial records.
The letter notes that the opinion holds that, in a defamation case, possible harm to a plaintiff’s “reputation and business prospects is not an ‘overriding interest’ sufficient to overcome the First Amendment right of access.”