More than 100 pages of previously secret documents became public yesterday after the First Amendment Coalition (FAC) filed a motion to unseal records regarding Gov. Jerry Brown’s effort to pardon former state Sen. Rod Wright.
The documents—some still heavily redacted—had been originally filed under seal as part of a flawed, longstanding practice in which all papers filed with the high court as part of a governor’s pardon request are automatically treated as confidential.
Such automatic sealing is not permitted under California law. On November 20, FAC filed a motion arguing that the public has a right under California common law, the California Constitution and the First Amendment to see to at least some of the file regarding Wright—who was convicted in 2014 on multiple felony counts, including perjury and voter fraud—as well as the several dozen other similar cases now pending before the court.
The Supreme Court granted FAC’s motion on December 18, requiring the Governor to make legal arguments as to why the Wright file should be confidential--and to publicly file any documents that had no legal basis for sealing.
Gov. Brown’s office did so yesterday, and included in its public filing numerous previously undisclosed records, including correspondence between the Governor’s office and the Board of Parole Hearings, Wright’s application to Brown for a pardon, and a letter from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office recommending against a pardon for Wright.
Also included in these newly unsealed documents are already-public records regarding Wright’s criminal case—clearly demonstrating the overbreadth of the Supreme Court’s automatic sealing practices.
“We’re grateful that the Supreme Court has acknowledged that the historical practice of treating the Governor’s pardon requests as automatically confidential is contrary to California and Constitutional law,” said FAC Executive Director David Snyder. “A governor’s power to pardon is extraordinary, and extraordinarily prone to abuse—these are exactly the kind of records that deserve much more public scrutiny, not less.”
FAC is represented in this matter by Tom Burke, Rochelle Wilcox and Selina MacLaren of the law firm Davis Wright Tremaine.
View the newly public documents here.