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The press and public have a qualified First Amendment right to inspect court docket sheets, the 2d U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last week. The 2d Circuit revived a case that had been brought by two Connecticut newspapers challenging Connecticut state courts’ decades-long practice of sealing files and, in some cases, refusing to acknowledge the cases even existed. The ruling came in The Hartford Courant Co. v. Pellegrino, No. 03-9141, a suit filed amid newspaper accounts indicating that thousands of cases over a 38-year period had been shielded from public view. The articles first appeared in The Connecticut Law Tribune, a sister publication of The National Law Journal. A February 2003 article in the Hartford Courant reported that some cases were sealed just because prominent individuals had requested it. The article stated that judges “have selectively sealed divorce, paternity and other cases involving fellow judges, celebrities and wealthy CEOs that, for the most part, would play out in full view of the public.” The newspaper accounts led the Connecticut judiciary to promulgate new rules that set standards for the closing of courtrooms and the sealing of materials. Among the rules was a requirement that a judge articulate the reasons for the closure or sealing and why they overrode the First Amendment right of access.

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