from Circuit Court of McLean County No. 15CF894 Honorable
Scott Daniel Drazewski, Judge Presiding.
PRESIDING JUSTICE TURNER delivered the judgment of the court,
with opinion. Justices Holder White and Pope concurred in the
judgment and opinion.
1 Pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court Rule 307(a)(1) (eff.
Nov. 1, 2016), intervenors-the Pantagraph, WGLT FM, and the
Illinois Press Association-appeal the McLean County circuit
court's January 3, 2017, order denying the
intervenors' request to open for public inspection the
fourth and fifth motions in limine filed under seal
by criminal defendant, Kirk P. Zimmerman. On appeal, the
intervenors contend the circuit court erred by finding the
presumption of public access to judicial documents did not
apply to the documents at issue. We reverse and remand for
2 I. BACKGROUND
3 In this case, the supporting record is scant, and thus this
court has very limited facts. Notably, we lack the documents
4 According to defendant's pleadings, the State charged
him with the first degree murder of Pamela Zimmerman, his
former spouse. In October 2016, defendant filed a motion for
leave to file motions in limine under seal. The
document referred to the motions at issue as his fourth and
fifth motions in limine. Defendant noted his fourth
and fifth motions in limine sought to exclude the
admission of evidence that was sensitive, private, and/or
inflammatory about himself and others who may be called as
witnesses or who are otherwise connected to him. According to
defendant, given the high level of media attention to his
case, the evidence sought to be excluded would taint the jury
pool if it became public and his right to a fair trial
depended on the motions being sealed. Additionally, defendant
noted he was prepared to provide the circuit court with
advance copies of the motions at issue for an in
camera examination in the event the court needed
additional facts. Defendant also filed a motion to close the
proceedings on the motions in limine.
5 In November 2016, the intervenors filed a petition to
intervene and objections to defendant's motion to close
the courtroom and to file the motions in limine
under seal. The intervenors also filed a supporting
memorandum of law. On November 21, 2016, defendant filed a
response to the intervenors' petition. On that same day,
the circuit court entered an order, granting defendant leave
to file his fourth and fifth motions in limine. The
order further stated the following: "Documents are filed
for 90 days. The documents shall not be unsealed up to and
until the court orders the same."
6 On December 22, 2016, the circuit court held the hearing on
defendant's fourth and fifth motions in limine.
An excerpt of the hearing is included in the supporting
record. The court noted at the beginning of the hearing that
it had allowed the intervenors' petition to intervene at
an earlier court date. At the hearing, it was noted the State
did not intend to raise the matters addressed in
defendant's fourth and fifth motions in limine
in its case in chief. Defendant withdrew his motion asking to
seal the courtroom, leaving the continued sealing of the
fourth and fifth motions in limine as the only
remaining contested matter. Defendant requested the motions
continue to be sealed until the jury in his case was
impaneled. The State took no position on the continued
sealing of the motions. After hearing the parties'
arguments, the court allowed, without objection,
defendant's fourth and fifth motions in limine.
The court further ordered the fourth and fifth motions in
limine to remain sealed until jury selection and noted
any order in limine related to those motions would
also be sealed. The court reasoned the presumption of access
did not apply to the motions in limine and ended its
analysis with that conclusion.
7 On January 3, 2017, the circuit court entered a written
order, granting the fourth and fifth motions in
limine and ordering those motions to remain sealed until
after the selection of a jury.
8 On January 19, 2017, the intervenors filed a timely notice
of appeal in sufficient compliance with Illinois Supreme
Court Rule 303 (eff. Jan. 1, 2015). See Ill. S.Ct. R. 307(a)
(eff. Nov. 1, 2016) (providing "the appeal must be
perfected within 30 days from the entry of the interlocutory
order by filing a notice of appeal designated 'Notice of
Interlocutory Appeal' conforming substantially to the
notice of appeal in other cases"). Thus, this court has
jurisdiction of this appeal pursuant to Illinois Supreme
Court Rule 307(a)(1) (eff. Nov. 1, 2016). See Skolnick v.
Altheimer & Gray, 191 Ill.2d 214, 221, 730 N.E.2d 4,
11 (2000) (noting an interlocutory order that circumscribes
the publication of information is reviewable as an
interlocutory injunctive order under Rule 307(a)(1)).
9 II. ANALYSIS
10 The United States Supreme Court has recognized the
existence of a common law right of access to "
'judicial records and documents.' "
Skolnick, 191 Ill.2d at 230, 730 N.E.2d at 15
(quoting Nixon v. Warner Communications, Inc., 435
U.S. 589, 597 (1978)). Additionally, in Illinois, section
16(6) of the Clerks of Courts Act (705 ILCS 105/16(6) (West
2014)) provides for the public's right to review judicial
records. See Skolnick, 191 Ill.2d at 231, 730 N.E.2d
at 16. Specifically, that provision provides, in pertinent
part, the following:
"All records, dockets and books required by law to be
kept by such clerks shall be deemed public records, and shall
at all times be open to inspection without fee or reward, and
all persons shall have free access for inspection and
examination to such records, docket and books, and also to
all papers on file in the different clerks' offices and
shall have ...