Does the historic presumption that court records should be open to the public mean that indigent and low-income litigants can’t make historically private financial information sealable from public disclosure or reviewable ex parte? This is the question raised in the U.S. Supreme Court case Sai v. United States Postal Service No. 14-646.
Sai, the petitioner in this case, couldn’t afford to pay court costs and sought to proceed in forma pauperis (IFP) – or without incurring court costs. Applicants for IFP status must disclose their private financial information so that the court can determine their eligibility to proceed IFP.
Sai was willing to supply the required financial affidavit but only if the court would place the affidavit under seal. The D.C. Circuit Court denied Sai’s motion to seal and for ex parte review of his affidavit, saying Sai failed to demonstrate that filing under seal or ex parte is warranted.
Bradley attorneys Michael Bentley and Simon Bailey authored an amicus brief filed in the U.S. Supreme Court for this case. An amicus brief is a document filed as part of the official case record by someone not directly related to the case that can be useful to the judge in evaluating the case. Bradley attorneys filed the brief on behalf of the Western Center on Law and Poverty and Legal Aid Association of California.
The amicus brief argued that the Supreme Court should grant certiorari (a writ seeking judicial review) to clarify and protect the privacy rights of poor and low-income individuals who request permission to proceed in forma pauperis in federal court. The brief asserts that the D.C. Circuit Court’s no-privacy decision requires low-income parties to choose between exercising their right to privacy versus their right to access a federal court – exacting a “price” from paupers that other litigants need not pay.
All other personal financial information filed with a court that has an electronic docket is not required to be publicly available. In this age of electronic dockets and identity theft, publicizing a party’s financial information can be dangerous and have a devastating effect.