Sealed cases

Giuffre v. Maxwell

September 20, 2017

Appellants Alan Dershowitz and Michael Cernovich sought access to certain sealed judicial records in Giuffre v. Maxwell, a defamation action in the Southern District of New York. The district court entered a standing order in the case permitting the parties to file documents under seal without first seeking judicial approval, resulting in the filing of the majority of the substantive papers in the case under seal, including the papers in support of an opposition to the Defendant's motion for summary judgment. The amicus brief argues, among other things, that the district court's order permitting the sealing is contrary to the First Amendment and common law presumptions of access, and there are no compelling or countervailing interests justifying sealing in this case.

O'Reilly v. McPhilmy

February 7, 2017

A Gizmodo Media Group attorney was denied access to a court hearing and filings in O'Reilly v. McPhilmy (involving a fraud action brought by Bill O'Reilly against his ex-wife tied to their divorce and custody proceedings). The court sealed the records and closed the courtroom without making the necessary findings on the record. Gizmodo Media sought an appellate order for the immediate release of the transcript from the hearing that was closed. The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief agreeing with Gizmodo that closing the doors to the court and maintaining a seal on the materials at issue here without any written findings violated both the First Amendment and New York’s statutory right of access.

Caplan v. WP Company LLC v. District of Columbia

June 15, 2015

The Washington Post sought access to a sealed summary judgment motion and a sealed opinion granting summary judgment in a civil case in the District of Columbia Superior Court. The civil case was filed by a couple whose children were removed from their home on suspicion of child abuse. A family court later found no reason to suspect abuse, and the children were returned to the home. The Caplans later sued the Family Services Agency for negligent and malicious conduct, and the court denied public access to the case. The Post appealed to the D.C. Court of Appeals.

Dwyer v. United States v. John Doe

March 5, 2015

Independent journalist Johnny Dwyer sued to unseal case documents in a criminal proceeding against a John Doe defendant who pleaded guilty to terrorism-related charges. The Eastern District of New York granted a motion to close the courtroom and to seal all case documents. The sealing order was itself sealed. Dwyer intervened and sought to unseal the record. The district court denied the motion to unseal. Dwyer appealed to the Second Circuit.

In re The Wall Street Journal

February 20, 2015

Donald Blankenship was charged with conspiracy to violate federal mine safety and health standards and securities fraud, among other things, stemming from the Upper Big Branch mine explosion in 2010, which killed 29 people. Immediately following the indictment, a federal judge ordered the parties, attorneys, witnesses, families of victims and others from making any statements to the media, and restricted all access to filings in the case. A coalition of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, National Public Radio, and the Charleston Gazette, intervened to overturn the restrictive orders, but the judge denied the request and found that news coverage was sufficiently likely to prejudice Blankenship’s right to a fair trial. The media intervenors appealed to the Fourth Circuit.

Federal court declines to unseal records on investigation into Wisconsin Republican campaign finances

Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Secret Courts | News | June 23, 2014
News
June 23, 2014

A district court in Wisconsin denied a motion to unseal documents last week in a lawsuit attempting to end an investigation into Wisconsin Republican campaign finances.

On May 1, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, along with four other media organizations, filed a motion to intervene and unseal the entirety of the parties’ filings in the federal court proceeding O’Keefe v. Schmitz et. al.

Appeals court overturns disclosure of government surveillance materials in suspected terrorist's trial

Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Secret Courts | News | June 17, 2014
News
June 17, 2014

The U.S. Court of Appeals in Chicago (7th Cir.) reversed a trial court ruling that would have reportedly been the first case in which defense attorneys obtained access to government surveillance court materials.

The three-judge panel sided with the government Monday, stating that the disclosure of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court records to the attorneys of Adel Daoud would pose a threat to national security. Daoud was arrested in 2012 for attempting to bomb a Chicago bar in what turned out to be a sting operation.

The court submitted its public opinion with a sealed, classified opinion that provides more explanation.

Judge Richard Posner wrote that the district court erred in thinking the defense attorneys’ security clearances entitled them access to the materials, which he believed could pose a threat to national security.

Delaware Supreme Court dismisses appeal in Al Jazeera contract sealing case

Bradleigh Chance | Secret Courts | News | June 5, 2014
News
June 5, 2014

The Delaware Supreme Court dismissed an appeal this week of an order requiring Al Jazeera to file an almost completely unredacted version of its complaint against AT&T from a 2013 contract dispute.

Despite having both parties file briefs and deliver oral arguments, the high court threw out the appeal without explaining why.

Ninth Circuit keeps Reporters Committee amicus brief in NSL case sealed more than six weeks

Jamie Schuman | Secret Courts | News | May 15, 2014
News
May 15, 2014

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled on Wednesday that it will wait until May 23 to unseal an amicus brief that contains no confidential information and that the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press filed more than five weeks ago.

The Reporters Committee and 18 other media organizations filed the brief in support of the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s challenged to the National Security Letters program on April 8.

Amici were required to file materials under seal, but the Reporters Committee filed a motion with its brief asking the Court to unseal the document.

"The Court cannot constitutionally seal this brief,” the Reporters Committee wrote in the motion. “Amici have had no access to confidential materials in the case; the brief only includes information that is already public; and there are clear public policy reasons for requiring that the materials be open.”

O'Keefe v. Schmitz

May 1, 2014

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and four media organizations intervened in a political speech case, asking a Wisconsin federal court to unseal records in a civil suit that alleges that the state misused an investigatory tool to retaliate against perceived political adversaries. The underlying case alleges that the so-called John Doe proceeding was used by state prosecutors to chill conservative speech and to drum up Democratic opposition to Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker. One of the conservative targets has challenged the state’s investigation in federal court, and much of the material was placed under seal.