Access to court records

The 1st Amendment, and common law, govern access to litigation-related court records, not FOIA

In Re: Honorable Adrianne L. Bennett (SCOVA)

In Re: Honorable Adrianne L. Bennett
The Virginia Supreme Court rules, 4-2, that the exhibits a judge filed in the Supreme Court along with a petition for mandamus should remain under seal, though the rest of the papers filed in the case, and the order sealing all the files should be unsealed. (The dissent reveals that the reason the mandamus was filed was because the judge wanted the Supreme Court to reinstate her to the bench after the Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission suspended her.)

AG informal opinion on OCRA

An assistant AG offered an informal opinion to the Prince William Circut Court clerk that nothing in the statutes governing remote access to non-confidential court files barred clerks from granting such access to the press.

CNS v. Schaefer (4th Circuit)

In ruling in favor of Courthouse News Service, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled June 24, 2021, that the clerks of the Norfolk and Prince William County circuit courts violated the press' First Amendment rights by delaying access to newly filed civil complaints.

Attorney General Opinion 13-036

New law (effective date July 1, 2013) restricting access to concealed weapons permits is retroactive, and declares that court orders granting permits must be blocked from access, too.

Daily Press v. Commonwealth

Virginia Supreme Court rules that Newport News judge wrongly sealed trial exhibits. 

Perreault v. The Free Lance-Star (Va. Supreme Court)

The settlement terms of several wrongful death lawsuits brought in Spotsylvania County against a pharmaceutical company must be disclosed publicly and cannot be sealed in the court records, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled. The unanimous opinion upholds a circuit court ruling that it was improper to permit the suits to be settled without the details disclosed in court.

Ostergren v. McDonnell (federal district court)

Virginia law barring people from posting Social Security numbers on the Internet is unconstitutional as applied to a privacy advocate's Web site as it existed at the time of the lawsuit.

Zaleski v. Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission


Allan D. Zaleski,


Judicial Inquiry and Review Commission,



The parties appeared for argument on the demurrer to the bill of complaint.

Proceeding under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, plaintiff seeks disclosure of an advisory opinion given by Counsel to the Judicial Inquiry Review Commission to a judge who verbally made the request and to whom a verbal opinion was given.

Attorney General's Opinion 2002 #095

two United States Supreme Court decisions you reference are not applicable to whether a circuit court clerk has a duty to provide public access to digital copies of the courts database of judicial or court records. It is my opinion that there is a presumption of openness of court records that has its origins in the common law, and the Virginia statutory law creates a presumption of openness with regard to requests for court records in digital format. Specifically, The Virginia Freedom of Information Act and §17.1-208 impose a duty on circuit court clerks to furnish copies of records requested by a citizen, without distinctions between paper and digital formats, provided the records are not sealed by court order or otherwise exempt from disclosure by law.

Attorney General's Opinion 2002 #116

a circuit court clerk may not decline to record a deed of trust that contains the grantors social security number. It is also my opinion that the clerks modification of a deed of trust offered for recordation may expose him to liability.


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