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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 Zarella said.

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 case.

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.


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