Rules Committee Announces Changes to
Proposals Regarding the Sealing of Documents and Courtroom Closures
The public and the news
media will have greater opportunity to challenge the sealing of files
and the closing of courtrooms under revised proposals approved by the
Rules Committee, following a public hearing this week. The revised
proposals will be submitted to the judges of the Superior Court for
their approval at a special meeting later this month. A copy of the
revised proposals also will be made available on the Judicial Branch
website next week.
Justice Peter T. Zarella,
Chairperson of the Rules Committee, said comments at the public hearing
this week prompted the revisions. "The changes made by the Rules
Committee are intended to strike a proper balance between an
individual’s right to privacy and the public’s right to know," Justice
The Rules Committee’s
revised proposals will require that the time, date and location of
hearings where a judge will decide whether to seal a family or civil
file or close a courtroom will be available on a special section of the
Judicial Branch website and will be posted outside the clerk’s office.
Additionally, as a result of
comments made at the public hearing, the proposed rules now provide for
the unsealing of financial affidavits whenever there is a contested
financial issue, rather than just at a final hearing. The revised
proposal continues to provide the opportunity for any person, at any
time, to request that financial statements be made public. The party who
filed the affidavits must prove to the Court that the sealing will
protect an overriding interest in keeping the documents private.
Therefore, the only financial affidavits that will remain sealed are
those in cases where there has been no dispute regarding financial
matters and where no member of the public had a motion granted
requesting that the financial documents be opened.
"The focus in the press and
at the public hearing was on the automatic sealing of all financial
affidavits when filed. What has not been the subject of discussion and
which is equally important is the provision of the proposed rules that
provides for the opening of the affidavits whenever there are contested
financial issues," Justice Zarella added.
In addition, the revisions
initially proposed by the Rules Committee eliminate the so-called "Level
1" sealing, which prevented public disclosure of the existence of a
On behalf of the Rules
Committee, Justice Zarella thanked all of those individuals who took the
time to participate in Wednesday’s public hearing. "Their input was
important and an integral part of the Rules Committee’s decision-making
process," Justice Zarella said.