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In re: Sealed arrest warrant pursuant to PA. R. Crim. 513.1

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  1. Court Access

Case Number: 801 MD 2022

Court: Court of Common Pleas of Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania

Clients: Herald-Standard – Uniontown Newspapers, Inc., Mon Valley Independent, Observer-Reporter

Motion to Intervene and Unseal Filed: Nov. 23, 2022

Background: According to local news reports, police arrested 55-year-old Keven Van Lam following the fatal shooting of a man in Rostraver Township, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 5, 2022.

Despite the fact that the shooting took place in a public shopping plaza, news outlets have been unable to learn even basic information about the state’s case against Lam, including the charges he faces, because the entire case file has been sealed by the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas. State court system spokesperons told reporters that the case was sealed according to Pennsylvania Rule of Criminal Procedure 513.1. However, the rule does not allow for the sealing of entire dockets, and the court’s order does not state that the docket is sealed.

On behalf of The Herald-Standard, Mon Valley Independent, and the Observer-Reporter, Reporters Committee attorneys filed a motion to intervene and unseal the docket and judicial records in Commonwealth v. Keven Van Lam. The news outlets argue that the public has a presumptive right of access to the docket and all other judicial records under the common law, the First Amendment, and the Pennsylvania Constitution.

Quote: “Public access to arrest warrant information discourages perjury in affidavits, encourages law enforcement to ensure affidavits are supported by sufficient cause, promotes fairness and accuracy in judicial decision making, and increases the perception of fairness in the arrest warrant process,” Reporters Committee attorneys wrote on behalf of the news outlets in a legal brief in support of their motion to unseal.

Updates: On Dec. 14, 2022, Judge Christopher A. Feliciani denied the news organizations’ motion to intervene and unseal the court records, concluding that “unseal[ing] the warrant information at this time would compromise the integrity of the ongoing investigation.” While the judge’s order provided the news outlets some information, including the date of the preliminary hearing, other important information about the case remains sealed. On Jan. 5, 2023, the case was appealed to the Superior Court. On Feb. 8, 2023, the Superior Court ordered the unsealing of dockets in the case. However, the court decided that the arrest warrant information will remain under seal until the defendant’s preliminary hearing. The court said that it will issue a longer opinion after the preliminary hearing. After the preliminary hearing on Oct. 18, 2023, the court released the criminal complaint in which police describe how Lam hired a hitman to arrange the killing of his former business partner, Boyke Budiarachman. On March 6, 2024, the Superior Court issued an opinion in support of its order of Feb. 8, 2023, finding that the trial court “abused its discretion in denying [the news outlets’] motion to intervene and in sealing the public docket.” The court’s opinion states that, “Given the vital importance of a public docket and the presumption of openness applicable to it, nothing in the record before us supports the trial court’s decision to keep the docket sealed and keep the criminal proceeding against Van Lam entirely walled off from public view.”


2022-11-23: Emergency motion to intervene and unseal

2022-11-23: Brief in support of emergency motion to intervene and unseal

2022-11-28: Order scheduling motions hearing

2022-12-14: Opinion and order of court

2023-01-05: Media intervenors’ application to expedite appeal

2023-01-06: Order

2023-01-13: Order granting application to expedite appeal

2023-01-13: Briefing schedule order

2023-01-20: Initial brief for Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

2023-01-20: Initial brief of media intervenors

2023-01-26: Panel order

2023-01-26: Reply brief of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

2023-01-27: Reply brief of media intervenors

2023-02-08: Order

2023-02-10: Motion to continue preliminary hearing

2023-03-03: Motion to continue preliminary hearing

2023-04-10: Application for expedited status conference

2023-04-10: Combined exhibits

2023-08-10: Motion to continue preliminary hearing

2023-10-18: Status update regarding preliminary hearing

2024-03-06: Opinion

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