Briefs & Comments

  • June 7, 2018

    The Reporters Committee and a coalition of news organizations filed a letter in the Michael Cohen search warrant case in the Southern District of New York.  The letter objects to a motion by Cohen and intervenors President Donald Trump and The Trump Organization to file their objections to a special master's recommendations under seal and ex parte.  The media coalition agreed with the federal prosecutor in the case that Cohen and the intervenors should be permitted to redact and file under seal only those portions of their submissions that would reveal the substance of documents over which they continue to assert attorney-client privilege and work product privilege.  The letter also stresses the importance of protecting the public's right of access in this high profile case.

  • June 6, 2018

    The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming supporting a group of plaintiffs challenging a pair of state statutes that heighten criminal and civil penalties on an individual who crosses private land without permission to access adjacent or proximate land where he collects resource data, with collection of resource data defined as (1) “to take a sample of material” or “acquire, gather, photograph or otherwise preserve information in any form”; and (2) “recording . . . a legal description or geographical coordinates of the location of the collection.”  Wyo. Stat.

  • May 29, 2018
    The Reporters Committee and a media coalition filed an amicus brief in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals supporting The Baltimore Brew, an online media outlet.  The news organization is challenging a practice of the Baltimore Police Department of requiring “non-disparagement” clauses in all settlements involving claims of police misconduct.  The district court concluded that the Baltimore Brew did not have standing to challenge that practice.  The Reporters Committee’s amicus brief in the Fourth Circuit argues that the Baltimore Brew, under longstanding constitutional principles, does have standing to challenge the City’s practice of imposing what are effectively gag orders on victims of police misconduct who would otherwise publicly share their stories, and highlights the strong public policy interest in favor of public access to settlement agreements entered into by public entities.
  • May 21, 2018

    The Reporters Committee and a media coalition filed an amicus brief in the North Carolina Court of Appeals in support of the News & Observer's appeal of a $6 million libel verdict. RCFP's brief focuses on the application of the actual malice standard, arguing that requiring proof of actual malice is essential to protecting First Amendment rights and preventing a chilling effect on speech on matters of public concern. The brief also argues that the plaintiff, a public official, did not meet the high burden of proving actual malice by clear and convincing evidence.

  • May 10, 2018

    The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Alabama in support of three reporters who moved to quash subpoenaes seeking their testimony about their observations while witnessing state executions.  The amicus brief argues that the First Amendment reporter's privilege protects journalists from being forced to give testimony about observations made during the newsgathering process.  Without such protection, a reporter's neutrality could be called into question any time he or she was compelled to give testimony that benefited a party in litigation.

     

  • April 27, 2018

    The Reporters Committee submitted comments on behalf of a coalition of news media organizations to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC) in response to its draft position paper on online reputation, which argues that Canadian privacy law essentially incorporates the "right to be forgotten." RCFP's comments argue that the position paper should clarify that websites performing a journalistic function are exempt from any takedown obligations, and that OPC's all-or-northing approach in finding that search engines never perform a journalistic function (and thus are never exempt from de-indexing obligations) would have unintended consequences.

  • April 19, 2018

    RCFP and a coalition of media organizations filed an amicus brief in the Seventh Circuit in support of Courthouse News Service's efforts to require the Cook County (Illinois) Circuit Court to fulfill its First Amendment obligations related to access to newly filed civil complaints. The district court granted CNS a preliminary injunction ordering the circuit court clerk to provide contemporaneous access to the documents, and the clerk appealed the injunction. RCFP's brief argues that the First Amendment right of access requires the clerk to provide contemporaneous access to newly filed civil complaints before processing. In addition, the brief argues that timely access to civil complaints benefits the public and that CNS's profit motive and readership are irrelevant to the determination of the First Amendment right of access.

     

  • March 9, 2018
    The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in support of Better Government Association ("BGA") in the Supreme Court of Illinois. BGA filed an Illinois FOIA request with the City of Chicago for documents relating to the prosecution of the nephew of former Mayor Richard M. Daley. The special prosecutor in the criminal case sought a protective order "to prevent entities like the City from complying" with FOIA requests for documents relating to the prosecution. BGA's request was denied in part due to the protective order. RCFP's amicus brief argues that a protective order sought to bar dissemination of public records cannot trump an agency's duties under FOIA.
  • February 23, 2018

    The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in support of the ACLU, the ACLU of the Nation's Capital, and the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review (FISCR).  The ACLU and MFIA are seeking access to certain judicial opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC).  Before the FISCR is a certified question of law from the FISC regarding whether the ACLU and MFIA have standing to bring their motion to unseal.  The amicus brief supports the ACLU and MFIA's position that they have standing to seek access to the FISC's judicial opinions and argues that parties should not have to show that the First Amendment right of access applies to a particular record or proceeding to demonstrate standing.  The amicus brief also highlights the interests of the press, which frequently bring First Amendment right of access claims, and the public interest in access to FISC opi

  • February 20, 2018

    The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in support of neither party in Breazeale et al. v. Victim Services, Inc., et al,  which is before the 9th Circuit on the appellants' petition for rehearing. The panel decision in Breazeale held that the denial of a special motion to strike under the California Anti-SLAPP Statute was not immediately appealeable because the motion was denied on the basis of the "public interest exception" to the Anti-SLAPP Statute. The amicus brief urges the Court to clarify that its holding does not apply when a special motion to strike under the Anti-SLAPP Statute is denied on grounds other than the public interest exception.  The amicus brief was drafted by attorneys at Jassy Vick Carolan LLP.

  • February 19, 2018

    The Reporters Committee joined a media coalition amicus brief in support of The Fayetteville Observer's motion to unseal a totally sealed civil case in North Carolina state court, in which everything in the case file, including the docket, identities of the parties and their counsel, and the sealing orders themselves, were under seal.  The trial court denied the motion, and the newspaper appealed to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.  The amicus brief argues that the wholesale sealing of the case violates the North Carolina and U.S. consitutions and is contrary to North Carolina precedent.  The amicus brief also argues that courts in other judisdictions have reversed similarly broad sealing orders and that the total sealing of this case undermines public confidence in the judicial system.  The brief was drafted by attorneys from Stevens Martin Vaughn & Tadych, PLLC.

  • February 14, 2018

    A Nevada district court judge ordered the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Associated Press to refrain from reporting on and to destroy copies of an anonymized autopsy report obtained through a public records request. The news outlets filed a petition for a writ of prohibition or mandamus in the Nevada Supreme Court to dissolve the prior restraint, and the Reporters Committee, along with the Nevada Press Association, filed a proposed amicus brief in support of that petition. The brief explains the significant news value in reporting on anonymized autopsy reports and the dangerous nature of the district court's gag order, which erroneously elevates purported privacy concerns over long-established First Amendment protections. The brief also focuses on the implications of the gag order for journalists and other members of the public who request records under the Nevada Public Records Act.

     

  • February 2, 2018

    The Reporters Committee and the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University filed an amicus brief in support of 11 plaintiffs, several of whom are journalists, who are challenging government searches of smartphones and other electronic devices at the U.S. border without a warrant.  The amicus briefs argues that because electronic devices store enormous amounts of private information about a person's speech and associations, searching them at the border without a warrant violates travelers' First Amendment rights.  The amicus brief highlights the particular concerns of journalists, whose electronic devices contain sensitive information about their newsgathering activities that, if revealed to the government, could chill their relationships with sources and ability to report freely.

  • January 31, 2018

    The Reporters Committee and 13 media organizations filed an amicus brief in a case in the California Court of Appeal, First Appellate District, challenging the trial court's holding denying of a request under the California Public Records Act by a law professor and the First Amendment Coalition for a database concerning applicants to the State Bar of California. The trial court denied the request in part because it held that the processes for anonymizing the database proposed by the requesters would constitute the creation of a new record, which is not required under the CPRA. The amicus brief argues that the CPRA specifically contemplates anonymization of records and that the process of anonymization is not the same as the creation of a new record. The amicus brief further argues that the trial court gave insufficient weight to the public interest served by disclosure of the records sought by the requesters.

  • January 29, 2018

    The Reporters Committee and three media organizations filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court of Georgia, challenging an intermediate appellate court's holding that all exemptions to the state's open-records law are mandatory. The brief argues, first, that decision violates the text and purpose of the Act. Second, the Court of Appeals’ interpretation would lead to untenable policy consequences, such as preventing state agencies from releasing any information if it falls into one of the exemptions. Finally, the Court of Appeals’ approach would make Georgia an outlier among the states and the federal government, leaving citizens here with far less access to government information than they would enjoy in most other jurisdictions.