Friday, February 03, 2012

9th Circuit Orders Recordings Of Proposition 8 Trial To Remain Under Seal

In Perry v. Brown, (9th Cir., Feb. 2, 2012), the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that a California district court abused its discretion in ordering the unsealing of a video recording of the trial proceedings in the case challenging the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8-- the ban on same-sex marriage. Judge Vaughn Walker had the recordings made solely for his in-chambers use. Those challenging Proposition 8 argued that release of the recordings would have a chilling effect on expert witnesses' willingness to cooperate in future proceedings. The unsealing was ordered by Judge Walker's successor following Walker's retirement. (See prior posting.) The 9th Circuit said:
the district court failed to appreciate the nature of the statements that the trial judge had made to the litigants, the specific factual and legal context in which he made them, and the consequences of his having done so. The integrity of our judicial system depends in no small part on the ability of litigants and members of the public to rely on a judge’s word. The record compels the finding that the trial judge’s representations to the parties were solemn commitments. Upon this record, there is only one plausible application of the standard for sealing a record that is, arguendo, subject to the common-law right of public access: the interest in preserving the sanctity of the judicial process is a compelling reason to override the presumption in favor of the recording’s release.
AP reports on the decision.