Legal Memorandum: Motion to Unseal Court Records in NM

Issue: Under New Mexico law, what factors determine if it is permissible for a court to unseal a court record in a guardianship proceeding?

Area of Law: Family Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Motion to unseal court records; Guardianship proceeding
Jurisdiction: New Mexico
Cited Cases: 767 F.2d 705
Cited Statutes: N.M.R.A. Rule 1-079(G)(1), 1-079(I)
Date: 09/01/2014

Before a court may decide a motion to unseal court records or conversely, grant a motion to seal additional documents, it must comply with the requirements of 1-079(G)(1).  See also 1-079(I). Rule 1-079(G)(1) provides that “only if the court by written order finds and states facts that establish the following” may it issue such an order:

(a)        the existence of an overriding interest that overcomes the right of public access to the court record;

(b)        the overriding interest supports sealing the court record;

(c)        a substantial probability exists that the overriding interest will be prejudiced if the court record is not sealed;

(d)       the proposed sealing is narrowly tailored; and

(e)        no less restrictive means exist to achieve the overriding interest.

N.M.R.A. Rule 1-079(G)(1).*FN1   

This same public policy behind the Rule is also a longstanding principle of common law.  See, e.g., Nixon v. Warner Commc’ns Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978); Thomas v. Thomas, 128 N.M. 177, 184-185, 1999-NMCA-135 at ¶ [25], [28] (citing United States v. Hickey, 767 F.2d 705, 708 (10th Cir. 1985)).  In Hickey, the Tenth Circuit acknowledged the common law right to inspect and copy judicial records, and explained that the purpose behind the right is to aid in “preserving the integrity of the law enforcement and judicial processes.”  Id

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