The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, joined by The Baltimore Banner and The Washington Post, is recommending that a federal district court in Maryland make changes to a proposed rule to better protect the public’s right of access to criminal records.
In public comments filed on June 1, 2023, with the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, the media coalition expressed concerns about proposed Local Criminal Rule 207.2, which would address the sealing of judicial records in criminal proceedings. While the proposed rule offers guidance for filing motions seeking the sealing of non-charging documents filed after an arrest, the media coalition argues that it does not provide adequate protection against unwarranted or excessive sealing.
“The importance of public access to court records cannot be overstated,” the media coalition’s public comments state, “as it promotes the public’s interest in monitoring the functioning of the courts and the integrity of the judiciary, and, particularly in criminal cases, provides a community therapeutic value.”
In its comments, the media coalition urges the district court to make several changes to ensure that the proposed rule is consistent with the public’s constitutional and common law rights. The media coalition argues that the proposed rule should emphasize the strong presumption in favor of public access to judicial records and that motions to file documents under seal are disfavored and discouraged. Among other recommendations, it also suggests that the proposed rule should require all motions to seal to be publicly filed.
“Fulsome access to criminal records is critical to ensuring the public trust in the institution of the judiciary,” the media coalition’s letter concludes.