Sunday: Sealing of records on rise in Tulsa County, records show
BY ZIVA BRANSTETTER World Enterprise Editor
Saturday, February 16, 2013
A Tulsa judge’s order to seal all records involving a material witness to a quadruple slaying is among records in more than a dozen criminal cases ordered sealed in the past year in Tulsa County District Court.
Tulsa County prosecutors say such cases are rare, but records indicate they are occurring with more frequency in Tulsa and statewide. Advocates for open government are alarmed at the trend and a measure to curtail the practice is moving through the state Legislature.
Tulsa County District Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith said judges have ordered individual records in 14 felony cases and a few misdemeanor cases sealed since Jan. 1, 2012. Most of those records relate to medical issues, such as mental competency of criminal defendants, or juvenile records, Smith said.
Others deal with requests for communications wiretaps that authorities wanted sealed “for obvious reasons,” she said.
“It’s things that are confidential by operation of law that had impact in a filed public record case,” she said.
Smith said it is highly unusual for all criminal records in a case to be sealed except for cases that are expunged as allowed by law. Sealed records are more common in civil cases, she said.
Federal judges order criminal records sealed far more often. Numerous records were initially sealed in a federal case resulting in charges against six former Tulsa police officers and a former federal agent.
Many records in the investigation were sealed until the Tulsa World made the matter public.
Read more in Sunday's World.