Public access to civil trials - KOTA Territory News

Public access to civil trials


Gary Jensen
Beardsley, Jensen and Von Wald

In South Dakota, the Fist Amendment to the United States Constitution gives the media and public "a qualified right of access to civil trials…"  

Since access is a "qualified right," a civil trial can be closed under certain circumstances.  The analysis to be applied is this:  

1. There is a "presumption of openness" the trial court should recognize and apply.  
2. To overcome the "presumption of openness," the trial court must require the party seeking closure to "show that closure is necessary to preserve higher values."  For example, can a party establish that closing the trial is necessary to have a "fair trial?"   

3. The trial court must enter "findings specific enough that the Supreme Court can determine whether the closure order was proper."

4. The closure order must be "narrowly tailored" to insure that only that portion that should be closed is closed.

As a practical matter, it's unlikely that many civil trials will be closed under this standard.  

If you are interested in reading more, go to Rapid City Journal, Associated Press and South Dakota Newspaper Association v. The Honorable John J. Delaney, South Dakota Seventh Circuit Court Judge, 2011 SD 55.

E-mail Gary is intended as general information on legal issues affecting us all.  This information should not be relied upon in any particular case and should never be used in lieu of consulting with an attorney.

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