Cross Posted at Legal Schnauzer
The court file in the divorce case of U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller has been sealed, multiple sources tell Legal Schnauzer.
It's not clear when the case was sealed, but it appears to have happened since news reports broke last Thursday, outlining allegations of extramarital affairs, drug abuse, domestic abuse, and other misconduct against Fuller. The judge is best known for his role in presiding over the prosecution of former Alabama Governor Don Siegelman in 2006.
Fuller filed a motion to seal on April 20, citing security concerns related to his status as a federal judge. Attorneys for his wife, Lisa Boyd Fuller, filed an objection on April 25, arguing that certain sensitive information (financial matters, addresses, etc.) could be redacted but that the overall file should not be sealed. (See the Motion to Seal and Objection to Complete Sealing of File at the end of this post.)
No ruling had apparently been made as of last Thursday, and Fuller made no mention of press coverage as grounds for sealing in his motion. But now the file has been sealed completely in the wake of press coverage.
Potential embarrassment for one of the parties, via press coverage, almost never presents valid grounds for sealing a divorce case. Is Mark Fuller being protected in a way that a regular citizen would not be? It sure looks that way.
The sealing, or unsealing, of divorce files involving public figures has been in the news before. Divorce records from John Kerry's first marriage were an issue in the 2004 presidential campaign. The unsealing of divorce records helped torpedo the U.S. Senate campaign of Illinois Republican Jack Ryan in 2004. A Democrat named Barack Obama wound up winning that seat and using it as a springboard to the White House.
An article at findlaw.com outlines the general rules for sealing a divorce case:
Generally, court proceedings are public matters. In the vast majority of jurisdictions, this includes divorce proceedings. This means that unless the court agrees to file divorce records under seal, filings in divorce proceedings become matters of public record.
Exceptions to open court records exist including the identification of children and victims of sexual abuse, amongst others. In most places, however, to protect divorce records from being open to the public, one or both participants must ask the court to file records in the case under seal. When a court files divorce records under seal, confidential or sensitive information within those records remains private and does not become a matter of public record. Courts can order entire records or portions of them to be filed under seal. . . .
Commonly cited reasons to file divorce records under seal include:
* the need to protect children from identification in divorce records;
* the need to protect victims of domestic violence;
* the need to keep sensitive information such as social security numbers and bank account numbers private; and
* the need to protect proprietary business information.
Is press coverage a valid reason for sealing a divorce file? It doesn't look like it. Are Alabamians wrongfully being denied access to public records? The answer appears to be yes.