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Federal judge finds no constitutional right to criminal records

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  1. Court Access
OHIO--In late April, a federal district judge in Cleveland held that there is no First Amendment right of access to…

OHIO–In late April, a federal district judge in Cleveland held that there is no First Amendment right of access to state criminal court records and that a 24-hour time delay in providing access to such records did not raise a constitutional issue.

Federal District Judge Patricia Gaughan dismissed a civil rights complaint filed by an attorney seeking access, holding that because there is no constitutional right of access to judicial records, a denial cannot constitute a civil rights violation.

Gaughan reasoned that although the public has a constitutional right to attend criminal and civil court proceedings, the U.S. Supreme Court and the federal appeals court in Cincinnati (6th Cir.) have recognized only a common law right of access to court records.

Gaughan rejected the arguments raised by the plaintiff, Kenneth Barth, that the federal courts have recognized a First Amendment right of access to judicial records. In its motion papers, the city conceded that there is a constitutional right of access, but that it is not absolute, and that its policy did not impermissibly impede the public’s right to view court records. The city argued that the delay was necessary to ensure that sealed documents, or those containing private information, were not inadvertently released.

Barth filed his complaint last April after he unsuccessfully sought access to records of previously adjudicated criminal cases in the Mayor’s Court in Macedonia that were housed in the City Hall building. At that time, Barth learned about the policy requiring that all requests for access to court records be in writing and providing the law department with 24 hours to respond.

Barth has appealed Gaughan’s decision. Oral argument has not yet been scheduled. (Barth v. City of Macedonia; Plaintiff’s Counsel: Melissa Graham-Hurd, Akron)