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Reporters Committee advises Virginia courts to adopt lawful court records rules

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  1. Court Access
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Friday advised the Supreme Court of Virginia to revise proposed Supreme Court…

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Friday advised the Supreme Court of Virginia to revise proposed Supreme Court rules that, if adopted, would not comport with state or federal constitutional law.

If left as written, The Reporters Committee warned, the proposed rules creating blanket bans on access to juvenile court records, domestic abuse files, and records relating to mental health and mental retardation would conflict with U.S. and Virginia law that requires courts to conduct a case-by-case analysis before ordering closure.

“While we do not dispute the sensitivity of information about [these issues] and believe that there may be circumstances when this information need not be open to the public, we can imagine both civil and criminal cases in which this information is of the utmost public concern and should not be shrouded from view,” The Reporters Committee wrote.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press was invited in January to comment on the proposed rules before they are considered for adoption. This set of comments responds to the fourth draft of the proposed rules and is the second set of comments that The Reporters Committee has submitted.

Chief Justice Leroy Rountree Hassell Sr., of the Supreme Court of Virginia formed a court records committee in November 2005 to propose new rules concerning access to court records because the Virginia court system is beginning to make public case files electronically available and is concerned that information available in public court records could be used in harmful ways. The full court records committee, chaired by Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Leslie Alden, met twice to discuss drafts of the rules, on Feb. 16 and May 25.

The Reporters Committee’s comments are available at:

https://www.rcfp.org/news/documents/20060818-commentson.html