An item is deemed a judicial document if it is relevant to the performance of the judicial function and useful in the judicial process. The weight of the presumption of access attached to a judicial document is determined by the role of the material at issue in the exercise of U.S. Const. art. III judicial power and the resultant value of such information to those monitoring the federal courts. The weight of presumption falls somewhere on a continuum. For example, the weight of the presumption of access to evidence adduced at trial and documents used by the parties in moving for and opposing summary judgment is great. In contrast, documents that play no role in the performance of Article III functions, such as those passed between the parties in discovery, are granted little, if any, weight. Additionally, the public's ultimate interest in a case should not affect the weight of the presumption. The countervailing factors to be balanced against the right of access are specific to the facts of each case.
Madoff was charged in an eleven-count information with securities fraud and other crimes. He pled guilty to all eleven counts. Numerous victims submitted emails to the United States Attorney's Office, some describing the impact Madoff's crimes had on their lives and others asking for an opportunity to be heard at the plea proceedings. With the permission of the Court, the Government filed the emails under seal. Certain other documents in the case have also been filed under seal. Members of the media requested that the e-mails be unsealed and that the court make specific findings regarding the other sealed documents.
Should the request of the media, that the e-mails be unsealed be granted, specifically to those who opposed the unsealing?
In granting the media's motion in part, the court found that the e-mails were judicial documents to which the common law presumption of access applied. Nonetheless, based on the court's duty under the Justice for All Act of 2004 to treat victims fairly and with respect for their dignity and privacy, the court concluded that the e-mails of the victims opposing the unsealing should remain under seal. However, the court unsealed the remaining e-mails, finding that several victims had specifically consented to the disclosure of their correspondence and that the remaining victims failed to respond to an adequate opportunity to object. The court further found that the right of access, which attached to the e-mails, had been satisfied. However, the court concluded that the other documents should remain under seal because they involved the government's overseas investigations regarding defendant, and their disclosure would adversely impact these investigations. The court also denied the media's motion as to the remaining documents.