A Seattle Times special report
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
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, 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
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?
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
Courts have sealed hundreds of cases that tell how well — or poorly — the affairs of "incapacitated persons" are being handled by guardians.
As roles and responsibilities blur, families wonder: Where do their advocates' loyalties lie?
More Your Courts, Their Secrets
When regulators cut a deal with a Group Health doctor facing discipline, they were unaware of a $5.5 million lawsuit in his past.
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?
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.
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.
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."
Julie Garibay sued Advanced Silicon Materials not just for money, but for answers.
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.
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.
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.
The Northshore Case
Teacher Carl Leede was sentenced to jail in 2000.