Media organizations urge state high court to overturn sealing order

SPLC PRESS RELEASEFor Immediate Release

VIRGINIA — The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Student Press Law Center filed a brief in the Virginia Supreme Court on March 21 in support of an animal rights group’s efforts to unseal a civil court file in Fairfax County.

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

Public access to information about the case was cut off when the trial judge unilaterally sealed the entire case file, despite U.S. Supreme Court 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 court judge would unilaterally shut down access to a case in a state where there is such clear precedent that such an action is unlawful,” said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “In the extremely unlikely event that some documents or proceedings in this case need to be closed, there is a procedure that must be followed. This court ignored those requirements.”

“Access to court proceedings and records is a fundamental First Amendment right,” said Mark Goodman, executive director of the Student Press Law Center. “The Virginia Supreme Court needs to make clear that this is not a context where that right can be overcome.”

Download a copy of the friend-of-the-court brief filed in the case In re: People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc.

Mark Goodman, executive directorStudent Press Law Center703-807-1904