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Opinion 239

After receiving several complaints that citizens were denied access to courtrooms, the Judicial Qualifications Commission issued Advisory Opinion 239 on August 28, 2013 regarding the “obligation of judges to respect and comply with the constitutional guarantee of the right of public access to judicial proceedings.” On November 30, 2016, the Georgia Supreme Court issued an opinion explaining that the Court, not the Commission, establishes judicial conduct standards. In re: Judicial Qualifications Commissions Formal Advisory Opinion No. 239, No. S15Z1366, 2016 WL 6996280, at *1—S.E.2d—-(Ga. Nov. 30, 2016). The Court ordered the Commission “to reconsider Opinion No. 239 consistent with the opinion of [the] Court.” Id. at *7. Accordingly, former Opinion No. 239 is stricken, and the following constitutes revised Opinion No. 239.

“[Rule 1.1] requires a judge to endeavor in good faith and with her best efforts to discern the law, and it demands that she then attempt to apply the law as she honestly understands it to the cases that come before her.” Id. at *4. Under both federal and state law, “it is indisputable as a general proposition that the public has a right of access to judicial proceedings.

Courtrooms are presumptively open to the public . . .” Id. at FN18. However, the law pertaining to the “precise limits of the general rule” is unsettled, and access can be limited or denied under certain circumstances. Id. Judges considering closing or limiting access to judicial proceedings should seek guidance from “binding precedents of [the Georgia Supreme] Court and the United States Supreme Court concerning the constitutional guarantee of the right of public access to judicial proceedings . . .” Id. at *5.

Judges are referred to the following precedents, Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555 (100 SCt 2814, 65 LE2d 973) (1980), Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court of Cal., 464 U.S. 501 (104 SCt 819, 78 LE2d 629), (1984)Waller v. Georgia, 467 U.S. 39 (104SCt 2210, 81 LE2d 31) (1984), Presley v. Georgia, 558 U.S. 209 (130 SCt 721, 175 LE2d 675) (2010), Purvis v. State, 288 Ga. 865 (708SE2d 283) (2011), Press-Enterprise Co. v. Superior Court of Cal., 478 U.S. 1 (106 SCt 2735, 92 LE2d 1) (1986), Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior Court, 457 U.S. 596 (102 SCt 2613, 73 LE2d 248) (1982), State v. Brown, 293 GA. 493 (748 SE2d 376) (2013), United States v. Rivera, 682 F3d 1223 (9th Cir. 2012), United States v. Perry, 479 F3d 885, 890-891 (II) (A) (D.C. Cir. 2007), State v. Lindsey, 632 NW2d 652, 660-661 (II) (Minn. 2001), United States v. Smith, 426 F3d 567, 573-574 (I) (2nd Cir. 2005), United States v. DeLuca, 137 F3d 24,32,35 (II) (B) (1st Cir. 1998), and United States v. Brazel, 102 F3d 1120, 1155-1156 (II) (J) (11th Cir. 1997).

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