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  • 10th Circuit

    Neither the Supreme Court nor the Tenth Circuit have directly addressed whether constitutional access rights extend to civil trials. However, a Supreme Court plurality found that “historically both civil and criminal trials have been presumptively open.” Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 580 n.17 (1980) (plurality opinion).

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  • 2nd Circuit

    In Westmoreland v. CBS, Inc., 752 F.2d 16, 22–23 (2d Cir.1984), the Second Circuit recognized a First Amendment right of public access to civil trials.  See also Newsday LLC v. Cty. of Nassau, 730 F.3d 156, 163 (2d Cir. 2013) ("We have extended that principle and held that the First Amendment right applies ‘to civil trials and to their related proceedings and records.’") (quoting N.Y. Civil Liberties Union v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth. (“NYCTA”), 684 F.3d 286, 298 (2d Cir. 2012)).  The Second Circuit has explained that the "First Amendment does not distinguish between criminal and civil proceedings, but rather protects the public against the government's arbitrary interference with access to important information." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Lugosch v. Pyramid Co. of Onondaga, 435 F.3d 110, 124 (2d Cir. 2006) (right of access applied to summary judgment motions in civil matter); Hartford Courant Co. v. Pellegrino, 380 F.3d 83, 93 (2d Cir. 2004) (applying qualified right of access to civil and criminal court docket sheets).

    Finally, in at least one instance, the right of access has been extended to some administrative hearings.  See, e.g., N.Y. Civil Liberties Union v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth., 684 F.3d 286, 301 (2d Cir. 2012) (holding there was a qualified right of public access to Transit Adjudication Bureau (TAB) hearings conducted by New York City Transit Authority.)

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  • 4th Circuit

    The First Amendment right of access extends to civil trials. Am. Civil Liberties Union v. Holder, 673 F.3d 245, 252 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); Rushford v. New Yorker Magazine, Inc., 846 F.2d 249, 253 n.4 (4th Cir. 1988).

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  • 5th Circuit

    The Fifth Circuit has not specifically addressed the press and public’s right to attend civil trials, but the presumption is that such proceedings are open, and the Fifth Circuit has noted a clear and strong First Amendment interest in ensuring that what transpires in the courtroom is public property. Doe v. Stegall, 653 F.2d 180, 185 (5th Cir. 1981).

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  • 7th Circuit

    “[L]ong embedded in our case law . . . is the strong presumption that all trial proceedings should be subject to scrutiny by the public.”  United States v. Ladd, 218 F.3d 701, 703-704 (7th Cir. 2000).

    However, “‘the First Amendment question cannot be resolved solely on the label we give the event, i.e., “trial” or otherwise’”; while “there is generally a right of public access to a trial, the public can properly be excluded from conferences between the court and counsel even during a trial.”  B.H. v. Ryder, 856 F. Supp. 1285, 1291-92 (N.D. Ill. 1994) , aff’d sub. nom. B.H. v. McDonald, 49 F.3d 294 (7th Cir. 1995) (quoting Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court, 478 U.S. 1, 7, 106 S. Ct. 2735, 2740 (1986)).

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  • 8th Circuit

    There appears to be no Eighth Circuit case law discussing the right of access to civil trials.

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  • Alabama

    Alabama Rule of Civil Procedure 77(b) provides as follows:

    (b) Trials and hearings; orders in chambers. All trials upon the merits shall be conducted in open court, except as otherwise provided by statute, and so far as convenient in a regular court room. All other acts or proceedings may be done or conducted by a judge in chambers, without the attendance of the clerk of other court officials and at any place within the state either within or without the circuit; but no hearing, other than one ex parte, shall be conducted outside the circuit without the consent of all parties affected thereby.

    Ala. R. Civ. P. 77 (b).

    The Supreme Court of Alabama has also stated that “[g]enerally, trials are open to the public.” Balogun, 516 So. 2d at 610. Citing Newman v. Graddick, 696 F. 2d 796 (11th Cir. 1983), the Supreme Court of Alabama further noted, however, that “public access must be balanced with the effect on the parties.” Id.

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  • Arizona

    The Arizona Supreme Court has held that “[t]here is no doubt that there exists a common law right of access to civil trials.”  Lewis R. Pyle Mem. Hosp. v. Superior Court, 149 Ariz. 193, 197, 717 P.2d 872, 876 (1986).

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  • Arkansas

    The common-law right of access applies to civil proceedings. IDT Corp. v. eBay, 709 F.3d 1220, 1222 (8th Cir. 2013).

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  • California

    The seminal California Supreme Court case on open access to civil proceedings, NBC Subsidiary (KNBC-TV), Inc. v. Superior Court, 20 Cal. 4th 1178, 980 P.2d 337, 86 Cal. Rptr. 2d 778 (1999), addressed the question of whether, in a jury trial, the trial court had properly “issued orders excluding the public and the press from all courtroom proceedings held outside the presence of the jury, and sealing the transcripts of those proceedings.” It was in this civil trial context that the California Supreme Court announced the rule that “substantive courtroom proceedings in ordinary civil cases are presumptively open.” Id. at 1217; see also In re Marriage of Burkle, 135 Cal. App. 4th 1045, 1070, 37 Cal. Rptr. 3d 805 (2006) (“The First Amendment provides a right of access to court records in divorce proceedings, just as in other ordinary civil cases”). Certain types of trials, however, such as involuntary conservatorship proceedings, may be closed. See, e.g., Sorenson v. Superior Court, 219 Cal. App. 4th 409, 416, 161 Cal. Rptr. 3d 794 (2013) (finding that there is no presumptive right of access to trials in involuntary conservatorship proceedings under California’s Lanterman-Petris-Short Act, because such proceedings are not “ordinary civil trials and proceedings”).

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  • Colorado

    Colorado appellate courts have not addressed the constitutional or common law right of access to civil trials.

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  • District of Columbia

    D.C. courts have endorsed the unanimous view of other appellate courts that a tradition of public access to civil trials has deep roots in American legal history, from English common law to the modern day.  E.g., In re Guantanamo Bay Detainee Litig., 630 F. Supp. 2d 1 (D.D.C. 2009); see also In re Reporters Committee for Freedom of Press, 773 F.2d 1325 (D.C. Cir. 1985) (noting that the Supreme Court has intimated a public right to access civil trials) (citing Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555, 580, n.17 (1980)); Mokhiber v. Davis, 537 A2d 1110, 1123 n.4 (D.C. 1988) (“No court has expressly concluded that the first amendment does not guarantee some right of access to civil trials.”).

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  • Florida

    Civil trials in Florida are presumptively open. Under Barron v. Florida Freedom Newspapers, Inc., 531 So. 2d 113, 116 (Fla. 1988), to overcome the strong presumption of openness in civil proceedings a proponent of closure must satisfy a three-prong test. The first prong requires a proponent to show that closure is necessary: “(a) to comply with established public policy set forth in the constitution, statutes, or case law; (b) to protect trade secrets; (c) to protect a compelling government interest [e.g., national security; confidential informants]; (d) to obtain evidence to properly determine legal issues in a case; (e) to avoid substantial injury to innocent third parties [e.g., to protect young witnesses from offensive testimony; to protect children in a divorce]; or (f) to avoid substantial injury to a party by disclosure of matter protected by a common law or privacy right not generally inherent in the specific type of civil proceeding sought to be closed.” Id. at 118. For privacy concerns, “it is generally the content of the subject matter rather than the status of the party that determines whether a privacy interest exists” that permits closure. Id. However, the privacy interest can be negated where “the content of the subject matter directly concerns a position of public trust held by the individual seeking closure.” Id. Second, the court must find that no reasonable alternatives exist to reach the desired result. Id. Finally, if no reasonable alternative exists, then the court must ensure that the means and the least restrictive necessary to accomplish the goal. Id.

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  • Georgia

    The press and public’s right of access to trials in Georgia criminal cases is long established, see, e.g., R.W. Page Corp. v. Lumpkin, 249 Ga. 576 (1982), and the Georgia Supreme Court has reiterated likewise that open judicial proceedings in civil cases are an integral part of our democratic form of government. “Public access protects litigants both present and future . . . . Our system abhors star chamber proceedings with good reason. Like a candle, court records hidden under a bushel make scant contribution to their purpose.” Atlanta Journal v. Long, 258 Ga. 410, 411 (1988). See generally Munoz v. American Lawyer Media LP, 236 Ga. App. 462, 464 (1999) (“The function of a free press is just as important in civil cases as in criminal cases”).

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  • Idaho

    “All trials upon the merits of every court of justice shall be conducted in open court and so far as convenient in a regular courtroom.”  Idaho R. Civ. Pro. 77(b); see also Idaho R. Civ. Proc. 43(a) (“In all trials the testimony of witnesses shall be taken orally in open court, unless otherwise provided by statute or by these rules, the Idaho Rules of Evidence, or other rules adopted by the Supreme Court of Idaho”); Saint Alphonsus v. St. Luke’s Health Sys., Ltd., Case Nos. 1:12-CV-00560-BLW and 1:13-CV-00116-BLW (D. Idaho) (discussing issue of access to civil court proceedings where confidential documents are offered as exhibits and used by testifying witnesses).

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  • Indiana

    Indiana Trial Rule 72(B) provides that “[a]ll trials upon the merits shall be conducted in open court and so far as convenient in a regular courtroom in or outside the county seat.”

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  • Iowa

    Although the Iowa Supreme Court has not specifically addressed rights of access in civil matters, it is likely that an analysis of rights of access in civil matters would follow what has been employed by the court to analyze criminal proceedings.

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  • Kansas

    Kansas civil procedure provides that “[a]ll trials on the merits must be conducted in open court.”  K.S.A. 60-104.  Judges must conduct trials “in a regular courtroom” or may use alternative, “suitable facilities.”  K.S.A. 60-104 and K.S.A. 20-347.

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  • Kentucky

    Civil trials are presumptively open to the public.  Courier-Journal & Louisville Times Co. v. Peers, 747 S.W.2d 125 (Ky. 1988).

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  • Louisiana

    The Louisiana Constitution also provides a right of access to civil judicial proceedings. Article 1, § 22 states: “All courts shall be open.” The Louisiana Supreme Court has commented on the “strong societal interest in public trials.” Copeland v. Copeland, 930 So.2d 940 (La. 2006).

    The Louisiana Supreme Court explicitly recognized this right of access in Plaquemines Parish Commission Council v. Delta Development Co., 472 So.2d 560, 566 (La. 1985). A newspaper intervened seeking access in a civil suit by the Parish against its former elected officials over millions of dollars of allegedly misappropriated mineral royalties. “The freedom of the press to report matters of public interest, and especially trial proceedings, is so great that it outweighs almost any governmental restraints.”

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  • Maine

    The Maine Rules of Civil Procedure provide for public access to civil trial proceedings. The Maine rules, which are modeled on the federal rules, provide, “All trials upon the merits shall be conducted in open court and so far as convenient in a regular court room.” M. R. Civ. P. 77(b). However, “[a]ll other acts or proceedings may be done or conducted by a justice or judge in chambers, without the attendance of the clerk or other court officials and at any place either within or without the county or division where the action is pending.” Id. The Maine Rules also provide that “[i]n every trial, the testimony of witnesses shall be taken in open court, unless a statute, these rules or the Rules of Evidence provide otherwise.” M. R. Civ. P. 43(a). It is common to hold chambers conferences and bench conferences to resolve preliminary issues, such as jury instructions, motions in limine, and procedural matters during trial.  In high profile matters, interested members of the public or the news media should make known to the presiding Judge or Justice their interest in attending all proceedings; otherwise for convenience only (and not for the purpose of excluding the public per se), some matters may take place in chambers.

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  • Maryland

    In Baltimore Sun v. Mayor & City Council of Baltimore, 755 A.2d 1130 (Md. 2000), the Court of Appeals found a common law right of access to civil proceedings, including trials and documents. Id. at 1134. In Doe v. Shady Grove Adventist Hospital, 598 A.2d 507, 511 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1991), the Court of Special Appeals found a First Amendment right of access to civil trials. There, it considered an application by the plaintiff in an action for breach of confidentiality of patient medical records and invasion of privacy arising from dissemination of his AIDS diagnosis for an order “‘sealing’ the record to the extent necessary to protect the confidentiality of his identity.” Id. at 514. The court found that although civil and criminal proceedings are presumptively open, redacting the name of the plaintiff served a compelling government interest in protecting the plaintiff’s right to privacy and the legislative judgment that medical information should be kept private. Id. at 365–66. In addition, redacting the plaintiff’s name would serve the compelling governmental interest of encouraging others whose privacy has been violated to pursue vigorous enforcement of their rights in court. Id. at 362. The court declined though to “seal the record,” and instead ordered that all papers filed identify the plaintiff as “John Doe,” or, to the extent they lead to or contain his true identity, that they be redacted. Id. at 365–66, 369–70.

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  • Massachusetts

    There is a general presumption of open access to civil trials. See, e.g., Boston Herald, Inc. v. Super. Ct., 658 N.E.2d 152, 156 (Mass. 1995) (citing Gannett Co. v. DePasquale, 443 U.S. 368, 386–387 & n.15 (1979)) (“The Supreme Court has not yet said whether the First Amendment protects public access to civil trials. However, free access to civil trials is well established under the common law.”); Globe Newspaper Co. v. Commonwealth, 556 N.E.2d 356, 360 (Mass. 1990) (“The tradition in the Commonwealth is that courts are open to the public. In the absence of a statute, a rule of court, or a principle expressed in an appellate opinion authorizing or directing a courtroom to be closed, the expectation is that courtrooms will be open.”).

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  • Minnesota

    Although the Minnesota Supreme Court has not addressed whether the public has a constitutional right of access to civil court proceedings, it has, however, generally recognized that court proceedings and documents in both civil and criminal cases enjoy a presumption of openness. In re GlaxoSmithKline PLC, 699 N.W.2d 749, 755 (Minn. 2005) (citing Gannett Co., Inc., v. DePasquale, 443 U.S. 368, 386 n.15 (1979)). In addition, Minnesota Rules of Civil Procedure 43.01 (“In all trials the testimony of witnesses shall be taken orally in open court”) and 77.02 (“All trials upon the merits shall be conducted in open court and so far as convenient in a regular courtroom”) provide for public access to civil court proceedings.

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  • Mississippi

    The Mississippi Rules of Civil Procedure mandate that “[a]ll trials upon the merits shall be conducted in open court, except as otherwise provided by statute.” Miss. R. Civ. P. 77(b). Further, Miss. R. Civ. P. 43(a) states that in all trials, “the testimony of witnesses shall be taken orally in open court, unless otherwise provided by these rules or the Mississippi Rules of Evidence.”

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  • Nebraska

    “All judicial proceedings of all courts established in this state must be open to the attendance of the public unless otherwise specially provided by statute.” Neb. Rev. Stat. § 24-1001 (Reissue 2008).

    The purposes section of the Nebraska Guidelines provides that:

    [A]s a general principle it is the view of the judiciary of the State of Nebraska that proceedings should be open to the public at all times and only closed, in whole or in part, where evidence presented to the court establishes that by permitting all or part of the proceeding to remain open to the public, a party’s right to a fair trial will be substantially and adversely affected and there are no other reasonable alternatives available to protect against such substantial and adverse effect.

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  • Nevada

    Rule 77(b) of the Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure provides:

    “All trials upon the merits shall be conducted in open court and so far as convenient in a regular court room, except private trial may be had as provided by statute. All other acts or proceedings may be done or conducted by a judge in chambers, without the attendance of the clerk or other court officials and at any place either within or without the district; but no hearing, other than one ex parte, shall be conducted outside the district without the consent of all parties affected thereby.” (emphasis added).

    Rule 43(a) of the Nevada Rules of Civil Procedure provides that: “In every trial, the testimony of witnesses shall be taken in open court, unless otherwise provided by these rules or by statute. The court may, for good cause shown in compelling circumstances and upon appropriate safeguards, permit presentation of testimony in open court by contemporaneous transmission from a different location.”

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  • New Hampshire

    The right of access, discussed in “Overcoming a presumption of openness” above, applies to trials.

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  • New Mexico

    Rule 1-104 NMRA mandates that all courtroom proceedings be open to the public, unless the courtroom is closed automatically for: (1) adoption hearings as set forth in NMSA 1978, Section 32A-58(C); (2) proceedings to detain a person with a threatening communicable disease as set forth in NMSA 1978, Section 24-1-15(J); proceedings for testing as set forth in NMSA 1978, Section 24-2B-5.1(B); and pretrial proceedings under the New Mexico Uniform Parentage Act, as set forth in NMSA 1978, Section 40-11A-625. An agreement of the parties to close the courtroom will not suffice to overcome the presumption of openness. Rule 1-104. Rather, the motion for courtroom closure must advance an interest that overrides the public’s interest in attending the proceeding. Id.

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  • North Dakota

    Adoption proceedings are closed under N.D.C.C. § 14-15-16(3) to the media and members of the public.  Juvenile proceedings are closed under N.D.C.C. § 27-20-51.  However, general information not identifying any juvenile, witness, or victim can be requested and released under N.D.C.C. § 27-20-51(7). N.D.C.C. § 25-03.1-43 provides that all records in connection with a mental health commitment proceeding are confidential.

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  • Oregon

    Civil trials are open via the force of Article I, section 10 of the Oregon Constitution.

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  • Pennsylvania

    Pennsylvania courts have recognized both a constitutional and common law right of access to civil proceedings generally. See PA Child Care LLC v. Flood, 887 A.2d 309, 312 (Pa. Super. 2005) (“Pennsylvania has a mandate for open and public judicial proceedings both in the criminal and civil settings.”).

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  • South Dakota

    In Rapid City Journal v. Delaney, 2011 S.D. 55, 804 N.W.2d 388, the Supreme Court of South Dakota recognized a First Amendment right of access to civil trials.

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  • Utah

    The general presumption in favor of the right of public access presumably applies equally to trials in civil proceedings.  See Supernova Media, Inc. v. Shannon’s Rainbow, LLC, 2013 UT 7, 297 P.3d 599 (Utah 2013).

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  • Vermont

    Unlike access to court records, there is no comprehensive rule or statute governing public access to court proceedings in Vermont. However, the Vermont Supreme Court has repeatedly recognized the “generally accepted practice as well as the public’s constitutional and common law right of access to court records and proceedings.”  State v. Tallman, 148 Vt. 465, 472, 537 A.2d 422, 427 (Vt. 1987); see also Herald Ass’n v. Ellison, 138 Vt. 529, 533-534, 419 A.2d 323, 326, (Vt. 1980) (noting that, in Vermont, public judicial proceedings are the rule and closed ones the exception).  Although most of the case law discussing the public’s right of access to court proceedings involves criminal cases, the Vermont Supreme Court has also recognized that “in the civil context that ‘the general rule is that trials should be public, with chamber proceedings the exception . . .’”  State v. Mecier, 145 Vt. 173, 185, 488 A.2d 737, 745 (Vt. 1984) (quoting Sunday v. Stratton Corp., 136 Vt. 293, 306, 390 A.2d 398, 405 (Vt. 1978).

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  • Virginia

    To date, neither the Supreme Court of Virginia nor the Supreme Court of the United States has squarely held that the public enjoys a qualified right of access to civil trial. See, e.g., Shenandoah Pub. House, Inc. v. Fanning, 235 Va. 253, 256, 368 S.E.2d 253, 254 (1988) (recognizing public’s right of access to records in civil proceedings while observing that “[t]he public’s right to attend and observe the conduct of a civil trial is not in issue in this appeal.”).  However, most federal circuit courts of appeal, including the Fourth Circuit, have recognized that the First Amendment right of access extends to civil trials. See Am. Civil Liberties Union v. Holder, 673 F.3d 245, 252 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted).  Furthermore, the Virginia Supreme Court has acknowledged the public’s constitutional and statutory presumptive right of access to records in civil proceedings. See Perreault v. The Free Lance–Star, 276 Va. 375, 390, 666 S.E.2d 352, 360 (2008); Shenandoah Publishing House, Inc. v. Fanning, 235 Va. 253, 258, 368 S.E.2d 253, 256 (1988); see also Va. Code §§ 16.1-69.54:1(E) and17.1–208(B).  Given the public’s qualified right of access to records in civil proceedings, it follows, both logically and as a practical matter, that the right extends to hearings and the trial itself.  Indeed, the Virginia Supreme Court has observed, in the context of a civil lawsuit, that “[a] trial is a public event.... There is no special perquisite of the judiciary which enables it, as distinguished from other institutions of democratic government, to suppress, edit, or censor events which transpire in proceedings before it.” Am. Online, Inc. v. Anonymous Publicly Traded Co., 261 Va. 350, 362, 542 S.E.2d 377, 384 (2001) (quoting Craig v. Harney, 331 U.S. 367, 374 (1947)).

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  • Washington

    The state constitution “mandates an open public trial in a civil case” absent an applicable statutory exception or compelling reasons for closure.  Cohen v. Everett City Council, 85 Wn.2d 385, 388–89, 535 P.2d 801 (1975).

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  • West Virginia

    As set forth above, the West Virginia Constitution guarantees a qualified constitutional right of access to civil court proceedings.  See “Access to civil proceedings/In general” above.  This right applies to trials.  State ex. Rel Garden State Newspapers, Inc. v. Hoke, 205 W.Va. 611, 520 S.E.2d 186, 191(1999).

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  • Wisconsin

    See Bloomer v. Bloomer, 197 Wis. 140, 221 N.W. 734 (Wis. 1928) (Under predecessor to Wis. Stat. § 757.14, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by excluding minors and the news media from the courtroom during “salacious” testimony concerning sexual relations):

    If the court may impound the testimony after it has been taken so that news gatherers may not spread its salacious details before the public, the court must of necessity have the power to make such purpose effective by preventing the spread of such details before the public during the trial by excluding news gatherers from the courtroom or by temporarily holding court in some other room during the time that such proof is being offered.

    The cases on which the husband relies are those on which the entire trial was conducted before a referee or behind closed doors.  They do not decide that a court may not proceed as the trial court did in this case while testimony was being taken that was of such a nature that the protection of the public morals required that it should be taken out of the hearing of minors or such other persons as might be in the courtroom.

    See State ex rel. Ampco Metal, Inc. v. O’Neill, 273 Wis. 530, 78 N.W.2d 921 (Wis. 1956):

    For the protection of the complainant, the usual course is to take the evidence as to the [trade] secret in camera….

    This we do by holding that the taking of certain evidencein camera, in those rare situations where justice cannot be properly administered without so doing, does not violate the public trial concept of such statutes.

    As pointed out earlier in this opinion, unless the testimony as to plaintiff’s claimed trade secrets be taken in camera, Ampco will be denied any effective remedy for the wrong it has sustained, assuming the truth of the allegations in its complaint.

    See Wiedenhaupt v. Hoelzel, 254 Wis. 39, 35 N.W.2d 207 (Wis. 1948):

    As to the last contention, it is the well-settled rule in this state that all proceedings in a case shall be open and public; that any communication with the jury, after the case is submitted to them and they have retired for deliberation on their verdict, by any person, shall be in open court, and in the presence of the parties or their representatives, where practicable.

    We hold that the communication had between the jury and the judge, through the reporter, is sufficient ground for setting aside the verdict and for ordering a new trial.

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  • Wyoming

    Wyoming has no case law specific to civil trials, but they are generally open to the public.

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