16 Ga. L. Rev. 659 (1981-1982)
The Common Law Right to Inspect and Copy Judicial Records: In Camera or On Camera

handle is hein.journals/geolr16 and id is 669 raw text is: NOTES
THE COMMON LAW RIGHT TO INSPECT AND COPY
JUDICIAL RECORDS: IN CAMERA OR ON CAMERA
Courts recognize a general common law right to inspect and copy judi-
cial records. This is often referred to as a right of access.' While this right
predates the Constitution,2 few courts have had occasion to define pre-
cisely its scope and characteristics.3 Recently, however, media representa-
tives have asserted this right in their requests for access to audio and
video tapes publicly introduced into evidence in the Watergate,' Abscam,5
and other criminal trials.6 Judicial controversy has erupted as federal
2 Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597-98 (1978). For an overview of
cases discussing access to judicial records, see Annot., 84 A.L.R.3d 598 (1978); Annot., 175
A.L.R. 1260 (1948).
See United States v. Mitchell, 551 F.2d 1252, 1260 (D.C. Cir. 1976), reuld on other
grounds sub nom. Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589 (1978). See also
United States v. Criden (In re Nat'l Broadcasting Co.), 648 F.2d 814, 819 (3d Cir. 1981).
3 The Supreme Court stated that [i]t is difficult to distill from the relatively few judicial
decisions a comprehensive definition of what is referred to as the common-law right of ac-
cess ..... . Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 598-99 (1978).
4 Watergate trial as used in this Note refers to the prosecution of four former top
White House aides for conspiring to obstruct justice by concealing the identities of the per-
sons responsible for the Watergate break-in. During the Watergate trial, the special prosecu-
tor publicly introduced into evidence edited tape recordings of presidential conversations.
Three commercial television networks plus other parties requested the right to inspect and
copy these edited tapes for public distribution. United States v. Mitchell, 551 F.2d 1252,
1254-55 (D.C. Cir. 1976), rev'd on other grounds sub norm Nixon v. Warner Communica-
tions, Inc., 435 U.S. 589 (1978).
' Abscam was an undercover operation by FBI agents and a paid informant to expose
certain public officials in the act of accepting bribes. The FBI recorded the acceptance of
bribes by these public officials on audio and video tapes that later were played into evidence
during the public trial Television networks requested the right to copy these tapes for pub-
lic broadcast. United States v. Myers (In re Nat'l Broadcasting Co.), 635 F.2d 945, 947-48
(2d Cir. 1980) (complete history of the Abscam operation).
6 These criminal trials include important investigations in Texas and Indiana. The Brilab
investigation involved the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives and three other
persons who were indicted for alleged bribery during an FBI sting operation. Audiotape3
provided the important evidence during public trial proceedings. Two Dallas broadcasting
stations requested copies of these tapes. Belo Broadcasting Corp. v. Clark, 654 F.2d 423, 425
(5th Cir. 1981).
In Indiana, the President Pro Tempore of the Indiana Senate and a private businezsman

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