TENNESSEE — The state Senate in Nashville passed a bill in late February that would keep civil lawsuits secret for five days after they are filed.
Sen. John Ford (D-Memphis) introduced the bill to give defendants time to prepare for questions from the media, the Associated Press reported. “People who use the court system need to have two to five days before they are attacked by the press,” he said. Currently, court records are public.
Bob Atkins, publisher of the News-Examiner in Gallatin and head of the Tennessee Press Association told the AP that such a law would limit public access to official records. “The basis for court proceedings has always been openness to the fullest extent possible. And we do not believe closing records for any length of time pertaining to an operation of government is in the public’s best interests,” Atkins said.
Ford said the grace period was necessary to protect the public. “This is for the public. This has nothing to do with a free press. It’s fair play for the public.”
The bill now goes to the House for consideration. A spokeswoman in Ford’s office said that hearings in the House will be scheduled later this spring.
(S.B. 2576, 98th Gen. Assem., 2d Sess. 1994)
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