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Is it possible not to have lawsuit documents published on internet?

Philadelphia, PA |

I'm thinking about pursuing a defamation lawsuit, but don't want media coverage of it or internet publication of the court files, which will make the defamation statements more widely publicized than it was before, compounding the harm. Is it possible to pursue the lawsuit without having these documents publicized? Thanks!

Attorney Answers 4


Pleadings in a lawsuit (Summons & Complaint, etc.) are public records. The Court is not going to publicize them them, but they can be found. They can also be found just by going to the Clerk's office. Unless it is a noteworthy case or one of the parties is a public figure it is not likely the media will pick up on it or care. You should address this concern with your attorney.

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They will be public records, unless you can convince the judge to seal them.

I am an Attorney-at-Law, licensed to practice law only in the state of California. Unless we have both signed a formal retainer agreement, you are not my client, and my discussion of issues does not constitute legal advice. Opinions expressed herein are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of those who hold other opinions.

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After the suit is filed you can make a motion for a gag order which would prevent anyone involved in the case from speaking about the case to the media. However, as stated by others here, the pleadings are a matter of public record, easily obtained from the Clerk of the Court and capable of reproduction with impunity. You might speak with a lawyer to see if you can have the complaint drafted in a way to protect further dissemination of the defamatory statements.

This answer does not establish an attorney client relationship and is just my opinion based upon the limited facts presented.

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Streisand effect: always a powerful consideration in defamation claims.
"The Streisand effect is the phenomenon whereby an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information has the unintended consequence of publicizing the information more widely, usually facilitated by the Internet.

It is named after American entertainer Barbra Streisand, whose attempt in 2003 to suppress photographs of her residence in Malibu, California, inadvertently generated further publicity. Similar attempts have been made, for example, in cease-and-desist letters, to suppress numbers, files and websites. Instead of being suppressed, the information receives extensive publicity and media extensions..."

It is extremely unlikely that you can convince a court to order your matter sealed to take it out of the public record. If you can, the court will likely be overruled if anyone -- including press or public interest judiciary watchdogs -- presses the matter with an appeals court. But you might ask your attorney to investigate or negotiate with the targeted defendant a private arbitration in lieu of civil action, or even a resort to "private judging" -- horrendously expensive, but a good option when all parties wants the matter resolved out of the public view.

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