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Friday, April 23, 2010 - Page updated at 03:28 p.m.

A Seattle Times special report

The cases your judges are hiding from you

King County judges have improperly sealed hundreds of court files. These records hold secrets of potential dangers in our medicine cabinets; of unethical lawyers and negligent doctors; of missteps by public agencies. We're going to court to open up those cases.

Update on the series

Enlarge this photoMARK HARRISON / THE SEATTLE TIMES

King County Court Commissioner Kimberley Prochnau says courts will no longer seal documents just because the parties want secrecy.

"It's a new day" as secrecy fades (December 31, 2006)

In the past nine months in King County, not one civil, guardianship or divorce case appears to have been sealed in its entirety, a striking reversal.

    KinderCare battled every step of the way (December 31, 2006)

    KinderCare, one of the country's largest child-care companies, raised a host of objections after The Seattle Times asked to have a sexual-abuse case unsealed. KinderCare's lawyers said there was "no public interest" in the file.

    Most recent case

    How an insulin pump works

    Diabetic woman's coma leads to secrecy, silence (December 17, 2006)

    A diabetic woman suffers brain damage. Who was to blame — the maker of her insulin pump? The UW Medical Center, which told her how to use it? Why was the public kept in the dark?

    Guardianship cases

    Dean Libey, with a photo of his mother, Evy Hohner. Libey tried repeatedly to get access to his mother's guardianship file in a Spokane court. "The sealing of my mother's file is a symptom of a greater illness that plagues the court," he says.

    JOHN LOK / THE SEATTLE TIMES


    How guardianship works and what to watch for

    More Your Courts, Their Secrets

    What the state didn't know about doctor, malpractice suit (December 13, 2006)

    When regulators cut a deal with a Group Health doctor facing discipline, they were unaware of a $5.5 million lawsuit in his past.

    Life-or-death question, but debate was hidden for years (October 19, 2006)

    Ann Chadwick's family sued Virginia Mason Medical Center after she died of ovarian cancer. The central issue: Should doctors have taken steps to prevent the hereditary disease?

    Cop's "incomprehensible" conduct in murder mystery comes to light (September 13, 2006)

    Sgt. John Padilla's actions -- labeled "incompetent (or worse)" by the Snohomish County Sheriff's Office -- may have cost authorities any chance of convicting someone for murder.

    Nightclub suit kept under wraps (September 3, 2006)

    A 1992 lawsuit involving Stephanie Dorgan, owner of the popular Crocodile Cafe, vanished from public view almost as soon as it was filed. Dorgan settled the case and persuaded a court commissioner to seal the file.

    Failures by state, caregiver kept secret in child-rape case (August 27, 2006)

    In King County, file No. 03-2-27609-0 tells how a 13-year-old girl was raped while in the state's care. A judge granted a motion that said the file should be hidden away "to protect all parties from embarrassment."

    Widow battles to unseal secrets over blast that killed her husband (April 9, 2006)

    Julie Garibay sued Advanced Silicon Materials not just for money, but for answers.

    Court opens lawyer's case file after keeping it secret 8 years (March 24, 2006)

    The court's presiding judge ordered the file opened -- every document in it, with nothing blacked out. His order said the public's "compelling interest" in open court records trumps the parties' agreement to have the file sealed.

    Penchant for secrecy: One judge has sealed 12 cases from view (March 12, 2006)

    Superior court judge Sharon Armstrong has sealed at least a dozen cases since 1988 -- the most of any judge in King County during that time.

    Changes take aim at secrecy in courts (March 7, 2006)

    The new rule says judges should seal records only if they identify "compelling privacy or safety concerns that outweigh the public interest" in open court records.