Bee asks court to unseal files

03/07/2003 9:30 AM

11/20/2007 6:00 AM

The Bee has filed a petition in Stanislaus County Superior Court asking Judge Wray Ladine to reverse orders sealing search warrants in the Laci Peterson investigation.

The petition maintains that the orders to seal the warrants were inconsistent with California law and violated the public's First Amendment right to have access to public records.

"We believe the court failed to follow the proper procedure, as required by law, in sealing the documents," said Mark Vasché, The Bee's executive editor. "As a result, The Bee -- and by extension, the public on whose behalf we act -- was denied its guaranteed right to argue against keeping the documents from public view."

Judges ordered eight search warrants in the Peterson case sealed without holding hearings on the matter. Police used the warrants to search the missing woman's home, husband Scott's warehouse and the couple's vehicles. They also obtained search warrants on Scott Peterson's phone records and his person.

According to state law, search warrants must be returned to the court where they were signed after 10 days. At that point, the warrants become public record.

The Bee's petition, citing state law and earlier cases, notes that public records cannot be sealed unless "specific, on the record findings are made."

The burden is on the party seeking to seal the records to provide evidence that closing them is necessary, the petition reads, citing case law.

Deputy District Attorney David Harris declined to speak about the petition specifically, but said there were state and federal precedents to seal public documents without holding a hearing.

"There is no authority to have a hearing prior to documents

being sealed," Harris said.

"Period."

Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or jcote@modbee.com.

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