Secret Courts

This section covers access to courts. Courtrooms traditionally have been open to the public, but judges often close proceedings or seal documents when they feel secrecy is justified. This section also covers state and federal laws governing camera coverage of trials.

Courthouse News Service v. Yamasaki

October 10, 2017

RCFP and a coalition of media organizations filed an amicus brief in support of Courthouse News Service's appeal of the denial of its motion for a preliminary injunction to require the Orange County Superior Court to provide it with timely access to newly filed civil complaints. The amicus brief argues that the First Amendment creates a right of timely access to civil complaints that requires that access be contemporaneous with their filing. In addition, the brief argues that timely access to civil complaints benefits the public and that CNS's profit motive and readership are irrelevant to the determination of the First Amendment right of access.

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.

Nat'l Veterans Legal Services Program v. United States

September 5, 2017

The Reporters Committee and 17 media organizations filed an amicus brief in a case over excessive court fees, emphasizing the importance of unfettered access to electronic court records to the press and the public because the news media uses electronic court records to inform the public about matters of public concern. The brief also argues that limiting PACER fees to the cost of dissemination is consistent with First Amendment values, and PACER fees in excess of those permitted by the E-Government Act of 2002 hinders journalists and the public from accessing court records.

Courthouse News Service v. Planet

July 7, 2017

Courthouse News Service (CNS) challenged the policy of the Ventura County state court clerk of delaying disclosure of unlimited civil complaints to the public. CNS argued that it has a constitutional right to timely access the complaints that attaches immediately upon filing. After the lower court held that CNS had a right of timely access to the civil complaints, Planet appealed the decision. The Reporters Committee and 27 other media organizations argued that prompt access to civil complaints benefits the public because timeliness affects newsworthiness, prompt access promotes more accurate reporting, and prompt access promotes public understanding of the matters occupying the courts' dockets.

CNS v. Yamasaki

April 12, 2017

Courthouse News Service (CNS) challenged the policy of the Orange County court clerk of "processing" unlimited civil complaints before releasing them to the public. CNS argued that it has a constitutional right to timely access the complaints prior to processing. The court tentatively denied CNS's request to enjoin the clerk's delays and asked for further briefing on issues including CNS's business model, such as its subscribers and profits. The Reporters Committee and 13 other media organizations argued that prompt access to civil complaints before processing benefits the public because timeliness affects newsworthiness, promotes more accurate reporting, and promotes public understanding of the matters occupying the courts' dockets. The amici also argued that a news organization's for-profit status does not change the fundamental importance of the First Amendment right of access to judicial proceedings and records.

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.

Weaver v. Massachusetts

March 6, 2017

The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in this Supreme Court case to underscore the importance of the First Amendment right of access to jury selection proceedings, known as voir dire. The case involves an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, where the defendant's counsel failed to object to closure of voir dire, a structural error under the Sixth Amendment. Our brief argued that prejudice should be presumed because denying the public access to jury selection is a fundamental violation of a First Amendment right.

HSBC Bank v. U.S.

October 28, 2016

The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in the Second Circuit with 26 media organizations arguing that details of an auditor’s report of HSBC Bank should be public. The auditor reports the bank’s compliance with a deferred prosecution agreement, as part of which HSBC agreed to pay $1.9 billion for money laundering. The brief argued that there is an overwhelming public interest in access to court documents involving newsworthy material, and that unsealing the monitor’s report will serve the vital functions of discouraging government misconduct and promoting informed public discourse.

Reporters Committee and Time Inc. appeal denial of access to court records in Trump Tower lawsuit

Press Release | November 18, 2016
November 18, 2016
Reporters Committee and Time Inc. appeal denial of access to court records in Trump Tower lawsuit

Attorneys from the Reporters Committee and Time Inc. filed a brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit today challenging a district court’s refusal to unseal at least four documents from the 1999 settlement of a class action lawsuit relating to the construction of Trump Tower. President-elect Donald J. Trump and The Trump Organization were among the defendants in the case, Hardy, et al. v. Kaszycki & Sons, et al.

The plaintiffs in Hardy alleged that undocumented, non-union Polish workers were employed in connection with the demolition of the Bonwit Teller building in Manhattan to make way for Trump Tower, and that the businesses responsible for the demolition failed to make agreed-upon payments for those workers’ wages to construction union insurance trust funds and pension funds.

The right of access to juror names and addresses

Feature
Page Number: 
7
Kevin Delaney

Since before the nation’s founding, the idea that the identities of jurors would be known not just to the parties before a court but also to the community at large has been a fundamental principle of the American judicial system. “When the colonists imported the jury system to America,” a Massachusetts trial court recognized, “they brought with them a system in which a defendant in all types of criminal trials traditionally had been tried by individuals whom the defendant knew or, at least was highly likely to know.”[1] A different court similarly pointed out that the jury selection for the British soldiers on trial for committing the Boston Massacre “was open to the public, and the identities of the jurors who acquitted the soldiers were known to the community.”[2]