The Volokh Conspiracy

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Free Speech

You Don't Need a Local Lawyer to Get a Case Unsealed

Each one of us has the right to access court records, so we can just sue pro se (though it helps to know the legal rules).


An astute commenter on the Oklahoma sealed libel case thread observed that, carpetbagger that I am, I was going into Oklahoma court without being an Oklahoma lawyer. But that's because I'm asserting my own rights as a citizen to access court records, so I'm representing myself pro se. I don't need to be (or to have) a local lawyer for that—or any lawyer at all.

Indeed, it turns out that just yesterday the Hawaii Supreme Court expressly so held, in Grube v. Trader (though it's not a controversial point):

Grube also challenges the circuit court's directive that he retain counsel to assert his objections to the sealing of the documents. Grube contends that, throughout his motion to unseal, he used the first person and personally signed all the pleadings. Grube explains that the Civil Beat address referenced in the motion appears in the "office address" portion of the caption to comply with HRPP Rule 2.2(d)(1). The public's constitutional right of access is not unique to the news media…. "The right of media representatives to be present is derived from their status as members of the general public." … Any member of the public may assert a personal right to access judicial proceedings and records.

Additionally, the right of self-representation exists in both criminal and civil proceedings. This is reflected in Hawaii statutes regulating the practice of law, which expressly preserve the right of every natural person to "appear[] in person before any court, and there prosecut[e] or defend[] that person's, plaintiff's, defendant's, or accused's own cause, without the aid of legal counsel." HRS § 605-2.

Other states have similar statutes to the Hawaii statute cited at the end of the quote.