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Reformer does not have right to seek access to court transcript

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Reformer does not have right to seek access to court transcript 04/19/99 FIRST CIRCUIT--In mid-March, the U.S. Court of Appeals…

Reformer does not have right to seek access to court transcript

04/19/99

FIRST CIRCUIT–In mid-March, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston (1st Cir.) held that individual members of the public have no right to seek access to sealed court records.

Legal reform advocate Theodore Kamasinski sought to intervene in a criminal case for the purpose of unsealing a transcript of an August 1995 attorney disqualification hearing. The federal district court in Concord, N.H., denied his request, stating that unsealing the transcript would place confidential informants at risk.

The appeals court upheld the district court ruling. According to the appellate court, the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects public and media access to criminal trials and proceedings. However, the court held that individual members of the public do not have that right unless they can show that they “suffered a concrete and particularized injury” in a particular case.

The court compared the case to the trial of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. In that case, victims seeking to attend the closed criminal prosecution could show particularized harm, unlike Kamasinski, and therefore had standing to bring a First Amendment right of access claim. The court held that Kamasinski’s reason for seeking access — “keeping a watchful eye on the workings of the prosecution and the court” — did not meet that test to establish standing to bring an action.

Kamasinski, a non-lawyer, said he decided to intervene to find out more about the way a federal public defender was disqualified from representing defendant Robert McMinn on drug charges. (McMinn v. United States)