Monday, March 6, 2006

Sealed Records in King County Superior Court

A team of reporters from the Seattle Times has launched an investigation of sealed civil court records in King County Superior Court. The reporters have found that many records have been sealed without an explanation of the reasons for doing so. They maintain that denying public access to the records is often contrary to the public interest.

These sealed records hold secrets of potential dangers in our medicine cabinets and refrigerators; of molesters in our day-care centers, schools and churches; of unethical lawyers, negligent doctors, dangerous dentists; of missteps by local and state agencies; of misconduct by publicly traded companies into which people sink their savings.

The Washington Constitution says: "Justice in all cases shall be administered openly." To this, many King County judges have effectively added: "unless the parties don't want it to be."
Ken Armstrong, Justin Mayo & Steve Miletich, The Seattle Times: Local News: The cases your judges are hiding from you, March 5, 2006.

The reporters say that the judges and commissioners have not been following the standard for sealing set forth in GR 15(c)(2)(B) :
(B) Sealing of Files or Records. On motion of any party to a civil proceeding, or on the court's own motion, and after reasonable notice to the nonmoving party and a hearing, the court may order the sealing of any files and records in the proceeding (i) to further an order entered under CR 12(f) or a protective order entered under CR 26(c); or (ii) under compelling circumstances where justice so requires.
They say that the court orders to seal records often show no reason at all. When they do give reasons, the statement is often conclusory, stating "good cause" rather than "compelling circumstances." See also GR 31 (Access to Court Records).

The reporters plan to file motions to unseal many of the records.

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