Courthouse News Service challenged a policy of the Ventura County, Calif., Superior Court that withholds from public inspection records filed with the court until after the court completes its processing, which takes several days and sometimes much longer. Courthouse News filed an action in federal court, claiming that the procedure violates its First Amendment-based right of public access. The trial court dismissed the case, holding that federal courts should not unduly interfere with pending and future state court proceedings.
The Reporters Committee urged the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) to reverse the lower court’s dismissal, arguing that federal courts must remain available as a forum for challenging state court policies that systemically restrict the news media’s right of access to state judicial proceedings and records. The brief also argued that delays in public disclosure of newly filed court actions substantially burden the news media’s right to gather and disseminate news, and severely curtail journalists’ ability to do so in a manner that best serves the public interest. Such information is often highly newsworthy, but will not be reported as reliably had official documents been available.