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Wednesday, June 16, 2021
​Hawaii Court Of Appeals: You Can't Sanction A Member Of The Public For Merely Asking To Unseal Court Records
By Robert Thomas @ 10:15 PM :: 1592 Views :: Ethics, First Amendment, Judiciary

Hawaii Court Of Appeals: You Can't Sanction A Member Of The Public For Merely Asking To Unseal Court Records

by Robert Thomas, InverseCondemnation, June 15, 2021

A detour from our usual fare today, as we post what now is the final complete case that we participated in before we traded in our private practice hat for public interest law back in February.

In a short (5 page) Summary Disposition Order, the Hawaii Intermediate Court of Appeals held that any member of the public has standing to request that a court unseal previously sealed documents, and that a court must hold a hearing on the request. Here, the trial court concluded that Judges for Justice (an association of retired judges who are interested in remedying wrongful criminal convictions) lacked standing to request the unsealing of certain documents that the court had previously kept from public disclosure, and sanctioned Judges for Justice $17,000 for making the request. The appeals court not only concluded it was error to deny the request, but that the trial court abused its discretion when it summarily imposed sanctions. In re Schweitzer (Appeal of Judges for Justice), No. CAAP-20-0000374 (June 15, 2021).

As we noted above, we started off this case wearing our private practice hats. We didn't take the case with us when we joined Pacific Legal Foundation, so we turned it over to our (now former) colleagues at Damon Key, who saw the case through to completion.

Although unpublished, this decision strongly reaffirms that the judicial process is -- absent compelling reasons for secrecy -- a public process, and that members of the public have an interest in these matters and do not need to show any special standing to ask the court to lift the veil. And most importantly, a member of the public can't be hit with a devastating monetary sanctioned merely for asking.

PDF:  Summary Disposition Order, In re Schweitzer (Appeal of Judges for Justice), No. CAAP-20-0000374 (Haw. App....

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