Court: Hawaii Supreme Court
Date Filed: June 10, 2020
Background: In 2019, Judges for Justice, a Washington-based nonprofit, filed a motion to unseal two court records from a 2007 criminal case. The records had been sealed without explanation.
The Third Circuit Court of Hawaii denied the motion to unseal the records because Judges for Justice was not a party to the criminal case. The circuit court also ordered Judges for Justice to pay monetary sanctions.
In February 2020, Judges for Justice filed a petition to the Hawaii Supreme Court challenging the circuit court’s refusal to unseal the records without justification, as well as the sanctions.
Our Position: The Hawaii Supreme Court should order the circuit court to comply with the First Amendment’s and Hawaii State Constitution’s standards governing the sealing of court records. It should also make clear that courts should not sanction someone for filing a motion to unseal.
- The First Amendment and Hawaii Constitution guarantee the public a right of access to judicial records for reasons fundamental to our democracy and the integrity of our judicial system.
- The news media relies on public access to court records to keep Hawaiians informed.
- The circuit court gave no explanation to support the continued sealing of the records, as required by the First Amendment and Hawaii Constitution.
- The circuit court’s sanctions against Judges for Justice could chill members of the public, including the press, from seeking access to judicial records and proceedings in the future.
Quote: “The public’s right of access to judicial proceedings and records under the First Amendment and Hawaii Constitution serves important societal interests, particularly in criminal cases. News outlets in Hawaii frequently rely on access to court proceedings and records to inform the public about the workings of the judicial branch and matters of public concern.”
Related: The Reporters Committee frequently moves to unseal court records or files amicus briefs in support of the unsealing of court records. Here are a few recent examples:
In 2018, the Reporters Committee and six news organizations successfully fought to unseal court records related to the high-profile shooting death of Laquan McDonald, a Black 17-year-old, in 2014.
In 2017, the Reporters Committee filed applications to unseal search warrants and electronic surveillance records related to the closed criminal investigations into three former government employees, all of whom pled guilty to charges arising out of allegations that they had provided classified information to journalists.
Also in 2017, the Reporters Committee and Time Inc. won a lawsuit securing the unsealing of court documents from the 1999 settlement of a class action lawsuit relating to the construction of Trump Tower.