Legal Memorandum: Public Inspection and Sealing of Court Records

Issue: Under New Mexico law, is the legislature permitted to enact statutes governing access to court records?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Court records; Automatically sealed; Motion to unseal
Jurisdiction: New Mexico
Cited Cases: None
Cited Statutes: N.M.R.A. Rule 1-079, Rule 1-079(A), Rule 1-079(C)(7)-(8); N.M.R.A. LR2–111
Date: 09/01/2014

The general rule is that court records are subject to public access.  N.M.R.A. Rule 1-079(A); N.M.R.A. LR2–111; Thomas v. Thomas, 128 N.M. 177, 184-185, 1999-NMCA-135 at ¶ [25], [28].  Of course, there are exceptions and some records, like those filed in guardianship and conservatorship proceedings, are even automatically sealed.  Rule 1-079(C)(7)-(8).  However, no rule and no statute or other law states or implies that once court records are automatically sealed they must remain sealed for all time, regardless of changed circumstances.  On the contrary, the applicable rule specifically recognizes that sealed court records are subject to being unsealed where circumstances warrant and the interest that initially justified the restricted access has substantially diminished or no longer exists.  Rule 1-079(I).  The official comments to this Rule make clear that this applies to records that are automatically sealed as well as to those sealed pursuant to court order.  These comments state in relevant part:

Paragraph C of this rule recognizes that all court records within certain classes of cases should be automatically sealed without the need for a motion by the parties or court order . . . .  Nonetheless, a motion to unseal some or all of the automatically sealed court records may still be filed under Paragraph I of the Rule.

Rule 1-079, Committee comment ¶ 3 (emphasis added).  

The power to provide rules of pleading, practice and procedure for the conduct of litigation in the district courts is lodged in the Supreme Court.  Ammerman v. Hubbard Broad., Inc., 87 […]

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