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Can an attorney retroactively seal a brief?



Eugene Volokh points out "what seems like an innovative attempt to suppress publications that criticize a lawyer's motions" and suggests publishers might wish to intervene.

The idea that any brief filed in a taxpayer-supported court should be sealed, prospectively or retrospectively, is itself extraordinary. As Judge Easterbrook states in Union Oil Co. of California v. Leavell, 220 F.3d 562, 567-68 (7th Cir. 2002):

"Even disputes about claims of national security are litigated in the open. Briefs in the Pentagon Papers case, New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713, 91 S.Ct. 2140, 29 L.Ed.2d 822 (1971), and the hydrogen bomb plans case, United States v. Progressive, Inc., 467 F.Supp. 990, rehearing denied, 486 F.Supp. 5 (W.D.Wis.), appeal dismissed, 610 F.2d 819 (7th Cir.1979), were available to the press. ... People who want secrecy should opt for arbitration. When they call on the courts, they must accept the openness that goes with subsidized dispute resolution by public (and publicly accountable) officials. Judicial proceedings are public rather than private property, U.S. Bancorp Mortgage Co. v. Bonner Mall Partnership, 513 U.S. 18, 27-29, 115 S.Ct. 386, 130 L.Ed.2d 233 (1994); In re Memorial Hospital of Iowa County, Inc., 862 F.2d 1299, 1302-03 (7th Cir.1988), and the third-party effects that justify the subsidy of the judicial system also justify making records and decisions as open as possible. What happens in the halls of government is presumptively public business. Judges deliberate in private but issue public decisions after public arguments based on public records. The political branches of government claim legitimacy by election, judges by reason. Any step that withdraws an element of the judicial process from public view makes the ensuing decision look more like fiat, which requires compelling justification."

It seems to me that if a client is aggrieved by a commentator publicizing the arguments of his attorney's briefs, his remedy is to sue his attorneys for legal malpractice for making those arguments in the public record rather than to ask the court to censor that work.

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Isaac Gorodetski
Project Manager,
Center for Legal Policy at the
Manhattan Institute
igorodetski@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Press Officer,
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.