The press and public’s right of access to Georgia judicial criminal pre-trial, trial and post-trial proceedings is long established, see, e.g., R.W. Page Corp. v. Lumpkin, 249 Ga. 576 (1982), and the Georgia Supreme Court has reiterated 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”).
Litigants and members of the public likely have a constitutional and common law right to access civil judicial proceedings. Closure of such proceedings must be considered under the procedural and substantive requirements of Press-Enterprise.
Article III, section 17 of West Virginia’s Constitution guarantees a constitutional right of the public, and the press, to attend civil court proceedings. State ex rel. Brooks v. Zakaib, 214 W. Va. 253, 265, 588 S.E.2d 418, 430 (2003) (quoting State ex rel. Garden State Newspapers, Inc. v. Hoke, 205 W.Va. 611, 520 S.E.2d 186 (1999)). However, this is not an absolute right – Rule 10.03(a) of the West Virginia Trial Court Rules directs that upon motion by either party named in any civil action, the court may limit access to court files. W. Va. Trial Ct. R. 10.03(a), http://www.courtswv.gov/legal-community/court-rules/trial-court/chapter-1.html#rule10.03. The order of limitation shall specify the nature of the limitation, the duration of the limitation, and the reason for the limitation. Zakaib, 214 W. Va. at 265–66, 588 S.E.2d at 430–31.