Media Law Prof Blog

Editor: Christine A. Corcos
Louisiana State Univ.

Friday, July 29, 2005

California Appeals Court Upholds Ruling to Keep Documents Sealed in Jackson Civil Case

Using the independent review standard, the 2nd Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal has upheld a lower court ruling to keep sealed several documents in the 1997 civil case, Abdool v. Jackson.  In this action, NBC Universal had wanted the court to unseal documents filed in the case, which concerned a lawsuit brought by singer Michael Jackson's former employees. A jury returned a verdict in Jackson's favor. While the parties did not oppose unsealing most of the documents, the judge in the case "ordered that 25 documents were to remain under seal. These included the judge's and research staff's notes. The trial court made the following findings: `[T]hat with regard to the specific documents listed below, there exists an overriding interest that overcomes the right of public access to said records based on the fair trial rights of Michael J. Jackson...the privacy rights of witnesses and other third parties....[T]hat there is a substantial probability that the overriding interests set forth above would be prejudiced if the records were not sealed; [and] and that the proposed narrowly tailored..." NBC Universal claimed that the denial of the motion violated the 1st Amendment as well as the California Rules of Court. Among other things, it alleged that "the trial court placed undue emphasis on Jackson's celebrity status". However, the appellate court found that "the combination of celebrity status and the type of crimes alleged justifie[d] sealing. The disclosure of the accusations made in the civil case prior to selection of the jury in the criminal case could only lead to a public condemnation of the defendant before he can defend himself in court."

Read the unpublished ruling here.

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