Media organizations urge high court to overturn sealing order in animal rights case

The Student Press Law Center and The ReportersCommittee for Freedom of the Press filed a brief in the Virginia Supreme Courton March 21 in support of an animal rights group’s efforts to unseal a civilcourt file in Fairfax County.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animalsis suing businessman Kenneth Feld, owner of Ringling Brothers Barnum &Bailey Circus, in Fairfax County for allegedly interfering with theiroperations.

Public access to information about the case was cut off whenthe trial judge unilaterally sealed the entire case file, despite U.S. SupremeCourt and Virginia Supreme Court rulings that say such action violates the U.S.Constitution and Virginia law.

“It’s hard to imagine that a state courtjudge would unilaterally shut down access to a case in a state where there issuch clear precedent that such an action is unlawful,” said Lucy Dalglish,executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “In theextremely unlikely event that some documents or proceedings in this case need tobe closed, there is a procedure that must be followed. This court ignored thoserequirements.”

“Access to court proceedings and records is a fundamentalFirst Amendment right,” said Mark Goodman, executive director of the StudentPress Law Center. “The Virginia Supreme Court needs to make clear that this isnot a context where that right can be overcome.”