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In re Marriage of Nicholas

Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three

July 29, 2010, Filed



 [**631]  ARONSON, J.—Consistent with First Amendment principles, California has a long-standing tradition of open civil proceedings. This applies with equal force to family law cases, although trial courts may redact or seal particular documents to protect private information concerning an overriding privacy interest, including matters pertaining to the custody and visitation of minor children. (NBC Subsidiary (KNBC-TV), Inc. v. Superior Court (1999) 20  [*1569]  Cal.4th 1178 [86 Cal. Rptr. 2d 778, 980 P.2d 337] (NBC Subsidiary); In re Marriage of Burkle (2006) 135 Cal.App.4th 1045 [37 Cal. Rptr. 3d 805] (Burkle).)

The trial judge initially assigned to the family law case now before us issued several different orders sealing the court record and establishing a procedure blocking  [***2] public access. Later, a newly assigned trial judge issued a revised sealing order to provide a procedure for public access in compliance with the NBC Subsidiary and Burkle decisions, as implemented by California Rules of Court, rules 2.550 and 2.551.

Appellant Henry T. Nicholas (Nicholas) contends the family law court lacked jurisdiction to issue the revised sealing order because it was bound by the initial family law judge's ruling, which he deems binding and unalterable by a successor trial judge. We do not find the contention persuasive.

We reject Nicholas's efforts to transform one of the initial trial judge's prior sealing orders into a juridical black hole from which no light can ever escape. Sealing orders, by their nature, turn on particular circumstances, which may change or evolve over time. Erecting a jurisdictional barrier would effectively prevent the court from exercising custody and control over its own files. We therefore follow well-established constitutional, case, and statutory authority subjecting sealing orders to continuing review and modification by the trial judge who sits in the same judicial proceeding.

Factual and Procedural Background

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186 Cal. App. 4th 1566 *; 113 Cal. Rptr. 3d 629 **; 2010 Cal. App. LEXIS 1258 ***; 38 Media L. Rep. 2209

In re the Marriage of STACEY and HENRY T. NICHOLAS. STACEY NICHOLAS et al., Respondent, v. HENRY T. NICHOLAS, Appellant; LOS ANGELES TIMES COMMUNICATIONS LLC, Respondent.


Prior History:  [***1] Appeal from an order of the Superior Court of Orange County, Super. Ct. No. 02D010487. James L. Waltz, Judge.

Disposition: Affirmed. Request for judicial notice. Granted in part and denied in part.


sealing, unseal, redacted, pertaining, temporary, custody, modify, injunction

Constitutional Law, Freedom of Speech, Free Press, Public Access, Family Law, General Overview, Governments, Courts, Court Records, Civil Procedure, Remedies, Injunctions, Preliminary & Temporary Injunctions, Authority to Adjudicate