Arizona Court of Appeals

Lewis v. Rehkow

Summary

Lewis v. Rehkow was an unpublished memorandum decision where the Arizona Court of Appeals affirmed the family court’s order to seal (or reseal) sensitive family court records in contentious post-divorce litigation.

Background

The parties, who were married for only two years, have engaged in more than fifteen years of contentious litigation regarding the custody of their child, including multiple appeals. In 2006, the family court granted Mother’s motion to seal records and directed that all future documents filed in the case be sealed. The court determined that the content of the pleadings was especially inflammatory and could eventually harm the child if the child read the court filings.

Father did not appeal that 2006 order but “continued to file multiple petitions, motions, and requests concerning [the child]’s custody arrangements.” This caused Mother to obtain an injunction against harassment against Father. Father’s behavior continued and Mother sought sanctions against Father after she discovered a website that contained sensitive information about the case. The family court found that Father provided a private investigator with sealed information about the case and imposed sanctions against Father.

In January 2016, Father filed a motion to unseal the entire case file. After instructing a best interests attorney to review the files and mark any that should remain confidential, the family court unsealed the record from January 1, 2015 forward.

Nearly three years later, Mother discovered that the website for which the family court sanctioned Father recently had been updated and it republished sealed information from the case, including the child’s name.

Over Father’s objection, the family court granted Mother’s motion finding that the “privacy interest of the child outweigh the public interest in disclosure.” It denied Mother’s requests to order Father and the website owner to remove content published online explaining that it lacked authority to control a person who was not a party to this action.

Public Interest

Father essentially argued that Mother failed to overcome the public interest in being able to access court records. The Court of Appeals explained that this interest is not absolute and that the Arizona Rules of Family Law Procedure enable family courts to seal records when appropriate.

Here, the family court found that the child’s privacy interests outweighed the public’s interest in disclosure of the court records and that no less restrictive means were available to prevent dissemination of sensitive information. The Court of Appeals affirmed the family court’s decisions and reasoned that its findings were consistent with the contentious history of this case.

Full decision