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BABY DOE v. METHACTON SCH. DIST.

March 2, 1995

BABY DOE, et al.
v.
METHACTON SCHOOL DISTRICT, GERALD RASKE, PHILADELPHIA SCHOOL DISTRICT, MICHAEL GIAMO, JOHN KLOCK, J. RUSSELL MCCONNELL and GREGORY DIFONZO



The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. CURTIS JOYNER

 JOYNER, J.

 MARCH 2, 1995

 Today, we consider three motions of the Philadelphia Newspapers, Inc. (PNI) regarding the above captioned litigation. PNI seeks, first, to intervene in this action for the limited purpose of seeking access to judicial records. Second, PNI seeks to immediately unseal the docket solely to permit its Motions to appear on the public docket, and last, PNI seeks to unseal the entire record in this action. All parties have agreed that Plaintiffs' interests are primarily at stake in these motions, and so only Plaintiffs have responded. Plaintiffs do not contest PNI's motion to intervene, but do oppose any attempt to unseal the record in any way.

 This litigation arises out of the sexual molestation of a minor girl, Baby Doe, by her school teacher. The teacher was convicted in state court for both molesting Baby Doe as well as for possessing child pornography (a videotape the teacher made of him molesting Baby Doe). Baby Doe and her family have sued the teacher, as well as two School Districts and various school officials for damages resulting from the abuse. The events resulting in this action were well reported by both local and national media at the time of the teacher's criminal proceedings.

 INTERVENTION

 Because PNI's motion to intervene is uncontested, PNI shall be permitted to intervene for the limited purpose of seeking access to judicial records. Pansy v. Borough of Stroudsburg, 23 F.3d 772, 780 (3d Cir. 1994).

 UNSEAL JUDICIAL RECORD

 In the United States, there is a strong tradition of public access to both criminal and civil trials and the resulting judicial records. This tradition is based on both the common law right to access doctrine as well as the First Amendment. Pansy, 23 F.3d at 780-81; Publicker Indus., Inc. v. Cohen, 733 F.2d 1059, 1066, 1070 (3d Cir. 1984). Once a document is filed with a court, the public presumptively gains a right to access it. Doe v. William Shapiro, Esquire, P.C., 852 F. Supp. 1256, 1257 (E.D. Pa. 1994). This presumptive right, however, is not absolute. In re Search Warrant for Secretarial Area Outside Office of Thomas Gunn, 855 F.2d 569, 574 (8th Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 1009, 109 S. Ct. 793, 102 L. Ed. 2d 784 (1989).

 The right can be overcome if a district court determines that the parties' interest in secrecy outweighs the public's interest in access to public records. Doe, 852 F. Supp. at 1257 (citing Pansy, 23 F.3d at 786). The burden is on the party seeking secrecy to show, with specificity, that its interest outweighs the public's. Leucadia, Inc. v. Applied Extrusion Tech., Inc., 998 F.2d 157, 165 (3d Cir. 1993); Pansy, 23 F.3d at 786. And, "a party who seeks to seal an entire record faces an even heavier burden." Miller v. Indiana Hosp., 16 F.3d 549, 551 (3d Cir. 1994) (emphasis in original).

 The factors used to initially decide or to later modify a Confidentiality Order are the same. Pansy, 23 F.3d at 790. Factors a district court should consider include; the parties' interest in secrecy, whether the parties seeking secrecy are public entities, the parties' reliance on a standing confidentiality order, potential embarrassment to the parties, and whether the action involves public health or safety. Doe, 852 F. Supp. at 1257; Pansy, 23 F.3d at 786-88.

 Courts should take the least restrictive course when ruling on these matters. So, when courts have found that a wholesale seal is unwarranted, they have instead permitted the use of pseudonyms, or have simply redacted identifying information from an otherwise public record. M.P. v. Schwartz, 853 F. Supp. 164, 167-68 (D. Md. 1994).

 After the Complaint was filed in this Court, but before it was served on Defendants, and with the benefit of an ex parte hearing, this Court entered a Confidentiality Order for the action that sealed the entire judicial record, including the docket, from the public. The Defendants have at no time opposed this closure. PNI, however, seeks to modify the order on the ground that the public's interest in this action is superior to the Plaintiffs' interest in confidentiality. It is important to note at this point that PNI has not moved to change the Doe designation for either Baby Doe or her family.

 Preliminarily, we find that there is little, if any, support for our previous decision to seal the docket from the public. The Third Circuit has held that a docket should be public, even if this entails redacting it to omit identifying details. United States v. Criden, 675 F.2d 550, 559 (3d Cir. 1982) (docket in criminal case). Accordingly, PNI's motion to unseal ...


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