Maine Courts Reverse Course on Sealed Documents
The Maine court system announced recently that it would reverse itself on sealing some court records after pressure from the Associated Press, the Maine Press Association, a number of newspapers and TV stations, and First Amendment groups.
When reporting on a manslaughter case, the executive editor of the Sun Journal newspaper in Lewiston, Maine noticed that an entire court file had disappeared. When the case was dismissed after the defendant died, the court declined to confirm the dismissal.
According to the Press Herald, a spokeswoman for the courts stated that court records had been sealed to protect the interests of people whose charges were dismissed. However, the court later concluded that a blanket process for dismissing such cases was not supported by federal case law and that “such court records should, under the First Amendment, remain open for public access and inspection.”
Dismissed criminal cases that had been ordered sealed will remain public records as they have in the past, according to a spokeswoman for the Maine court system.
Media organizations led by the Sun Journal newspaper in Lewiston and attorney Sigmund Schutz from the Maine Freedom of Information Coalition objected after learning that court officials had begun sealing the court records last fall with no public notice.