Advocates, Press Seek Access to Court Records in FCI Dublin Sexual Abuse Lawsuit


SAN FRANCISCO — Today, Public Justice and the ACLU of Northern California filed a motion to unseal court records and preserve public access to hearings in the class action lawsuit that survivors of sexual assault at FCI Dublin brought against the federal Bureau of Prisons last year.

The media was instrumental in shedding light on the years of rampant sexual abuse inside the prison, and public interest in the ongoing litigation remains high. Yet, with little explanation, the federal district court has granted numerous motions to seal records in the case and many of the motions themselves are under seal, leaving the public and the press in the dark.  

In April, the Bureau of Prisons abruptly began the process of shutting down FCI Dublin and transferring more than 600 women to facilities across the country. In the following weeks, the court held a series of closed hearings to address the hectic and poorly planned closure. These hearings took place without prior notice, and in many instances, the docket does not reflect that they even occurred.

“The First Amendment protects the right of public access to court records and judicial proceedings,” said Jackie Aranda Osorno, senior attorney at Public Justice. “This right is a fundamental check on what the government does in our name and serves to ensure public confidence in our legal system.”

While the Bureau of Prisons has argued that some court records should be sealed to protect the “safety and security” of FCI Dublin, those concerns are irrelevant now that the prison has closed. Unless there is a compelling reason to maintain secrecy, the court should make the previously sealed documents available to the public immediately. 

“For decades, FCI Dublin officers hid the prison’s toxic culture from outside authorities and used threats and retaliation to silence the women they sexually abused,” said Angelica Salceda, director of the Democracy and Civic Engagement program at the ACLU of Northern California. “Holding government officials accountable for the horrific conditions at FCI Dublin requires complete transparency. The public must know the full extent of the systemic sexual misconduct that occurred there, as well as what happened during those final chaotic weeks leading up to the facility’s closure and in the immediate aftermath.”

In August 2023, the California Coalition for Women Prisoners and eight women formerly incarcerated at FCI Dublin filed California Coalition for Women Prisoners v. United States of America Federal Bureau of Prisons alleging violations of the Eighth Amendment, due process, and federal law.

Freelance journalist Victoria Law, the First Amendment Coalition, the ACLU of Northern California, and The Appeal, a nonprofit news organization, seek to intervene in the lawsuit to ensure that the public can inspect the court documents and attend future hearings. Public Justice and the ACLU filed the motion in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on their behalf.

“The public has a compelling interest in transparency of court records, especially when they are essential to holding the government accountable for the kind of abuse suffered by women at FCI Dublin,” said David Loy, legal director of the First Amendment Coalition. 

The motion asks the court to unseal records in California Coalition for Women Prisoners v. United States of America Federal Bureau of Prisons when there is no compelling reason to keep them secret; explain the basis for keeping any remaining records sealed; issue minute orders for any closed hearings; and provide advance notice of closed proceedings in the future so that interested parties have an opportunity to object. The motion does not seek to disclose the names of sexual assault survivors or invade their privacy.