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Oklahoma lawmaker wants to make it tougher for judges to seal records

Oklahoma judges and a media expert spoke out Tuesday at a legislative hearing concerning judges' ability to seal records in their cases. Rep. Aaron Stiles, R-Norman, wants to make it harder for judges to make records secret.
by Nolan Clay Modified: October 9, 2013 at 6:00 pm •  Published: October 8, 2013
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A state legislator wants to make it tougher for judges to make court records secret.

“Generally, we want people to have access to court cases,” Rep. Aaron Stiles said Tuesday during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.

Oklahoma judges now can seal court records from public view in traditionally open cases if they decide it is in the best interest of justice.

“I think what we're trying to do is address a situation where judges can abuse that,” Stiles, an attorney, said at the hearing. “Judges — because they're elected officials — sometimes get political pressure on them perhaps from donors. I've seen attorneys ... in a particular county ... getting their divorce records sealed and prominent figures.”

Stiles, R-Norman, told judges in a letter last month, “My intent is to eliminate the ‘interest of justice' standard and to enumerate the specific situations when records can be sealed so we have a clear and equal rule for all citizens of Oklahoma.”

One judge told Stiles in an email that another judge said he had closed hearings in a probate case and sealed the records “because the family didn't want anybody else knowing their business, and they asked me to.”

Harmon County Associate District Judge Mike Warren also wrote in the email that a judge in a divorce case involving no children had sealed the divorce records “for the very same reason.”

“I think they were both in error,” Warren wrote.

Stiles read from the email during the hearing.

Warren in his email warned, though, against requiring judges to follow only a list in sealing records.

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by Nolan Clay
Sr. Reporter
Nolan Clay was born in Oklahoma and has worked as a reporter for The Oklahoman since 1985. He covered the Oklahoma City bombing trials and witnessed bomber Tim McVeigh's execution. His investigative reports have brought down public officials,...
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