First Amendment Coalition
March 13, 2019 – March 21, 2019
Even more secret records related to former California Gov. Jerry Brown’s request to pardon former state Sen. Rod Wright became public yesterday—the result of an ongoing effort by the First Amendment Coalition (FAC) to shine light on the decades-old California Supreme Court practice of automatically sealing documents related to executive clemency.
The once-sealed records released yesterday include a detailed investigation report from the Board of Parole hearings as well as an overview of Wright’s criminal history.
Brown pardoned Wright—convicted in 2014 on multiple felony counts involving perjury and voter fraud—in November 2018. Under the California Constitution, the governor was required to seek the state Supreme Court’s approval to grant pardons and clemency to any “twice-convicted felon.” For decades, the governor and the high court had treated all of the paperwork filed with these requests as confidential and sealed from public view.
The process, clearly unlawful under both California law and the First Amendment, has resulted in hundreds and hundreds of pages of politically and judicially important documents being permanently sealed in recent years. In November, FAC challenged the practice with a motion to unseal the Wright file.
The Supreme Court granted FAC’s motion on December 18, prompting the disclosure of hundreds of pages of previously sealed records. The court’s December 18 order also required the governor’s office to provide legal justification for why any remaining portions of the Wright file should be sealed.
On March 13, the Supreme Court rejected the Governor’s legal arguments for continued sealing, ordering the release most of the portions of the Wright file that remained under seal. Those documents became public yesterday.
“We’re pleased that the Supreme Court has recognized the serious legal problems with its longstanding sealing procedure, which amounted to a secret docket at the state’s highest court,” said FAC Executive Director David Snyder. “All Californians, and all Americans, are entitled to see records filed in their court systems, particularly when they are documents as important as the ones at issue here.” FAC has filed motions to unseal records related to multiple other Brown clemency requests, still pending in the Supreme Court.
Read the Supreme Court’s March 13 order here.
FAC is represented in this matter by Tom Burke, Rochelle Wilcox and Selina MacLaren of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine.
For more information, contact:
FAC Legal Fellow
First Amendment Coalition
Davis Wright Tremaine LLP