The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has reversed a decision by a trial judge to release the supposedly private recordings of the Prop 8 trial that were put under seal.
Here’s what the court said in terms of press freedom in accessing court documents and materials:
Second, our ruling has nothing to do with the freedom of the press to publish, describe, or comment on any information to which it obtains access. Rather, the question here is whether courts are required (or even free) to give to the media information that is not ordinarily available—and specifically whether a recording purportedly made for the sole purpose of aiding the trial judge in the preparation of his opinion, and then placed in the record and sealed, may shortly thereafter be made public by the court.
A coalition of media groups, including the Los Angeles Times, The McClatchy Company, CNN, In Session, The New York Times, Fox News, NBC News, Hearst Corporation, Dow Jones, The Associated Press, KQED, The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Northern California Chapter of Radio & Television News Directors intervened in the lawsuit and pushed for the recordings to be released raising First Amendment challenges. Here is the court’s response:
We conclude, for the reasons we explained above, that the integrity of the judicial process is a compelling interest that in these circumstances would be harmed by the nullification of the trial judge’s express assurances, and that there are no alternatives to maintaining the recording under seal that would protect the compelling interest at issue. In short, the recording cannot be released without undermining the integrity of the judicial system.
The Ninth Circuit focused on evidence that Judge Walker has assured the parties that the video would not be released, especially in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the issue of broadcasting, and that the First Amendment was balanced against the interest of parties in a judicial proceeding who had received promises from the court.