The Supreme Court today ruled that various clemency records will remain partially inaccessible to the public. The records were submitted by Governors Jerry Brown or Gavin Newsom when they asked for the court’s constitutionally required permission to pardon, or commute the sentences of, six people who had been “twice convicted of a felony.”
The court granted motions by Newsom to file under seal the unredacted clemency files for Susan Burton, Ramon Rodriguez, James Harris, Elaine Wong, Anthony Guzman, and Richard Flowers, and it ordered redacted versions of the files be made “available for public inspection upon request.”
Regarding the stuff that will stay secret, the court’s orders say:
The court hereby finds that on the facts of this case overriding interests exist that overcome the right of public access to these records, to wit, interests as set forth in this court’s Administrative Order 2021-05-26; these overriding interests support sealing the records; a substantial probability exists that the overriding interests will be prejudiced if the records are not sealed; the proposed sealing is narrowly tailored; and no less restrictive means exist to achieve the overriding interests. (Cal. Rules of Court, rules 2.550(d)-(e), 8.46(d)(6).)
We can’t tell from the court’s docket entries what documents are now available and what documents remain confidential. Also unknown is whether any of the publicly accessible documents will shed any light on the reasons the court denied a sentence commutation for Wong, one of the 10 people whose clemency requests by Governor Brown the court blocked without explanation.
All but Burton’s clemency recommendation request were submitted by Brown. Justice Joshua Groban, who was Brown’s senior advisor before joining the court, recused himself from ruling on the five files besides Burton’s.
The issue whether these six clemency files would be kept confidential has been unresolved for a long time. It’s been almost three years since the First Amendment Coalition filed motions to unseal the five files submitted by Brown. It filed a motion to unseal Burton’s file in May 2019. The court found unsatisfactory Newsom’s initial responses to the motions, but gave him multiple opportunities to justify keeping parts of the files secret. Newsom’s most recent filings were two months ago.