This newspaper will continue to pursue the information contained in a court file involving Samuel Lima — the man allegedly responsible for the Honey Lake Firearms burglary in September and arson and burglary in Susanville over the Fourth of July weekend — a file of a criminal court proceeding clerks at the Lassen County Hall of Justice and the court’s operations manager say is not available for public view because it’s “confidential.” The court clerks also decline to cite the authority that made the file confidential.
And get this — this file is so confidential it’s not even included in the court’s listing of cases against Lima on its website.
This practice appears to violate the 2017 California Rules of Court regarding the sealing of court records. According to Rule 2.550, the rule governing the sealing of records, “Unless confidentiality is required by law, court records are presumed to be open.”
Friday, July 7, the newspaper went to the Lassen County Hall of Justice and asked to see two court files involving Lima — CR034392, filed Sept. 27, 2016 and CR034345. A courthouse clerk said both files were confidential and refused access to them.
Later in the day, the clerk called the newspaper and acknowledged she made an error — one of those files, CR034392 was not confidential. The newspaper viewed that file on Tuesday, July 11. In that case, cited in last week’s editorial, petty theft and vandalism charges against Lima were dismissed with a Harvey Waiver — meaning a judge could consider that information when sentencing Lima in another case.
While this case was filed in the same time period as the Honey Lake Firearms burglary, it is unrelated to that case. This case charges Lima with a misdemeanor petty theft from an unnamed woman and vandalism damage to her fence.
Last week’s editorial also reported the district attorney had not asked for an arrest warrant in a forgery case in which Lima did not appear for arraignment. In fact, the judge issued a warrant in that case. The Times regrets these errors. Some readers believe the newspaper has more access to this kind of information than the public. While the newspaper may have relationships with some of the parties involved in the local criminal justice system, our access to court files is exactly the same as any member of the public.
Being a newspaper does not grant us any special privileges. Lima was arrested Sept. 9, 2016 for his role in the Honey Lake Firearms burglary. When he was arrested, Lima was in possession of one firearm stolen from the store, and he said he had sold the others. The Susanville Police Department charged him with burglary, possession of burglary tools, possession of stolen property, carrying a concealed firearm without a license and selling a firearm without a license.
Given Lima’s most recent crime spree, the public has a right to know how the district attorney, the defense attorney and the court finally resolved the Honey Lake Firearms burglary case against him from last year. It’s simple. That’s what we want to know.
The Sixth Amendment guarantees speedy and public trials, the rules of the state court say court files are public documents unless a judge balances the various concerns of justice and orders a file be sealed.
We don’t believe we’re making an unreasonable request.