Court Files Cloaked In Secrecy

By JOSH GERSTEIN | 7/18/13

In the high-profile criminal case against alleged bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, only 27 of 69 numbered court filings or orders are publicly available, with at least 42 entirely missing from the public docket.

“When it comes to sealing cases or files or documents…judges are supposed to make written findings on the record that justify the conclusion that the normal presumption in favor of openness is outweighed by some particular compelling interest in non-disclosure,” said Daniel Klau, a Hartford, Conn. media lawyer.

“When you go onto a docket and what you have is just completely missing entries with no capability for a member of the public or press to ascertain whether a judge has complied with their constitutional obligation to make those necessary findings, that’s disturbing,” he said.

“I’d also like to remind counsel of the presumption of public access to judicial documents, and that this Court frowns upon the sealing of judicial documents unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Magistrate Judge Marianne Bowler said last week at Tsarnaev’s arraignment on a 30-count indictment.“To date, many of the filings in this case have been sealed, and the court will look carefully in the future because the public has a right to know about the nature of the proceedings.”


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