A group of newspapers is challenging a decision to seal court records in the murder of University of Virginia student Yeardley Love, allegedly by her ex-boyfriend, George Huguely V. In an editorial, the Washington Post said, “Keeping the public and news organizations from viewing court records is not an appropriate or legally justified response.” Search-warrant affidavits and the details of what was found generally are made public. But these records and even the order barring their public release have been placed under seal. It is unclear whether this was done at the behest of the prosecutor or Mr. Huguely’s defense lawyer or whether a judge took it upon himself to shut off public access.
The Washington Post, the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Media General Operations have challenged the seal and asked that the court — as a first step — release its justification for placing the records off limits. The organizations also plan to press the court to release the records. The Post writes, “Transparency of the criminal justice process is essential to ensure public confidence in the results. Judges and litigants often worry about potential jurors in high-profile cases being influenced by news stories. This is a legitimate concern, but careful questioning and exclusion from the jury pool of those who have been exposed to such coverage are the answer — not removing important records from public view.”