(CN) – The 7th Circuit’s Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook blasted attorneys for their reasons for asking the court to keep appellate records sealed, including the need to shield one attorney’s reputation. “A tenor who can no longer hit high C can’t conceal that fact from the public, and a lawyer who has lost focus on his clients’ welfare likewise must face exposure,” Easterbrook wrote.
In Milam v. Dominick’s Finer Foods, the first of two consolidated actions, the plaintiffs asked the court to keep under seal an affidavit that supported their motion to set aside dismissal of the case.
The plaintiffs said the document “would potentially cause embarrassment and affect [counsel’s] personal and professional reputation by disclosing personal matters.”
Easterbrook rejected this rationale. “The legal system’s goal is to protect the rights of litigants, not to safeguard the interests of lawyers,” he wrote.
The plaintiffs wanted Easterbrook to remand the sealed affidavit without ruling on whether it should remain sealed.
“Before doing this, however, I want to hear from appellees,” the judge wrote. He gave the parties 10 days to address whether the district court should have reopened the case based on “excusable neglect.”
The second appeal, U.S. v. Foster, involved a U.S. attorney’s attempt to keep 34 items sealed in a drug conviction. The defendant had appealed his 36-month sentence reduction, based on the retroactively lowered guideline ranges for crack-cocaine offenses, because he argued that the reduction should have been greater.
The prosecutor filed a motion for secrecy, insisting that the documents should “remain sealed in order to protect the privacy interests of the … witness involved.”
Easterbrook said the motion “suggested that counsel for the United States had no idea what was in the sealed envelopes and did not plan to inquire.”
“To call the performance of the United States Attorney’s Office in this case a disappointment would be a gross understatement,” the judge added.
He gave the parties 10 days to address whether the 34 sealed documents should be remanded.