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A coalition of journalism organizations is squaring off against the American Bar Association over a proposed ABA resolution that seeks to sharply limit public access to criminal records. A letter was sent last week to the chair of the ABA House of Delegates from groups including the Coalition of Journalists for Open Government and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The organizations want the 546-member House of Delegates to reject the resolution at the ABA’s annual meeting because “the recommendation that criminal case records be automatically sealed when there is no conviction is radical and ill-considered and will do serious damage to the public’s confidence in the judicial system.” The ABA Commission on Effective Criminal Sanctions “has cited no body of law to support its recommendation,” according to the letter. The commission filed an 18-page recommendation asking the ABA to urge “federal, state, territorial and local governments to limit [public] access, to the extent permitted by the First Amendment,” to records of criminal cases in which charges were dismissed or resulted in acquittals, or when convictions were reversed, vacated, or set aside. The commission wants to force the public and the press to file a petition in court asking for release of those criminal records, which are now public in most jurisdictions. The commission claims that the recommendation will help people with criminal records obtain employment and housing, but such a move would also shield both police and prosecutorial misconduct from public scrutiny. This week reporters will be covering the ABA’s annual meeting in San Francisco. No word on whether they’ll protest outside the Moscone Center West.
Brendan Smith[email protected].

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