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RCFP urges DC Court of Appeals to provide public access to electronic court records

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  1. Court Access

In comments submitted to the D.C. Court of Appeals on April 12, 2021, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press urged the court to take account of the public’s First Amendment and common law right to inspect judicial records as it develops rules and procedures concerning electronic access to court records.

The Reporters Committee’s guidance came in response to the court’s Feb. 12 notice seeking public comments about “how best to make documents filed in the court — briefs, appendices, transcripts, and record materials from trial-court and agency proceedings — electronically available to the general public to the extent feasible.”

The Reporters Committee’s comments emphasize the importance of electronic access to court records during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, noting that it allows reporters to quickly and accurately inform the public even when they cannot be physically present due to health and safety reasons.

“Even in non-emergency situations, however, in an age when news is reported online nearly as quickly as it occurs, journalists rely on the availability of online information to break and verify stories of major importance to the public,” Reporters Committee attorneys wrote. “Electronic access to judicial records, including documents filed by the parties and court orders, improves the depth, quality, and accuracy of news media’s coverage of judicial developments.”

The Reporters Committee’s comments also caution that any limitations imposed by the court on accessing electronic records, including redactions to protect confidential information, should be “narrowly tailored and consistent with the First Amendment and common law presumptions of public access to judicial records.”