Court records

Courthouse News Service v. Yamasaki

October 10, 2017

RCFP and a coalition of media organizations filed an amicus brief in support of Courthouse News Service's appeal of the denial of its motion for a preliminary injunction to require the Orange County Superior Court to provide it with timely access to newly filed civil complaints. The amicus brief argues that the First Amendment creates a right of timely access to civil complaints that requires that access be contemporaneous with their filing. 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.

Nat'l Veterans Legal Services Program v. United States

September 5, 2017

The Reporters Committee and 17 media organizations filed an amicus brief in a case over excessive court fees, emphasizing the importance of unfettered access to electronic court records to the press and the public because the news media uses electronic court records to inform the public about matters of public concern. The brief also argues that limiting PACER fees to the cost of dissemination is consistent with First Amendment values, and PACER fees in excess of those permitted by the E-Government Act of 2002 hinders journalists and the public from accessing court records.

Courthouse News Service v. Planet

March 22, 2016

Courthouse News Service (CNS) has asked the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California to grant a motion for summary judgment in a case CNS filed against the Ventura County Superior Court over policies the court instituted that delay access to newly filed civil complaints. As part of its business model, CNS has a team of reporters that regularly review and report on complaints the day they are filed. CNS’s ability to inform the public about important judicial actions is hindered when its reporters cannot access complaints in a timely manner. The Reporters Committee and 12 other media organizations, writing in support of CNS's motion for summary judgment, argued that a First Amendment right of access attaches to civil complaints immediately upon the document’s submission to the court. Additionally, the Reporters Committee stressed that timeliness is a fundamental element of newsworthiness.

Grand jury secrecy comes at a cost

Tom Isler | Secret Courts | News | January 13, 2015
News
January 13, 2015

Two new lawsuits are challenging the continued secrecy of the grand jury investigations related to the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., and Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y. The suits demonstrate just how secret the information gathered by a grand jury is, while also making a compelling case for the public interest in greater access.

Courthouse News Service v. Planet

November 7, 2014

Courthouse News Service (CNS) filed a federal lawsuit against a California state superior court for delaying access to newly filed unlimited civil complaints for days or weeks. CNS argued that the First Amendment provides a right of access to civil complaints that attaches immediately upon filing, and its reporters should be able to inspect newly filed civil complaints the day they are filed. A federal district court granted the defendant-court's motion to dismiss, finding that the type of access requested was not required under the First Amendment. The Reporters Committee and 25 other media organizations argued that a First Amendment right of access attaches to civil complaints when they are filed. The brief argued that the public has a right to know what matters are occupying space on court dockets and consuming public resources, and that complaints reveal a wealth of information about how citizens use the judicial branch.

Delaware Supreme Court dismisses appeal in Al Jazeera contract sealing case

Bradleigh Chance | Secret Courts | News | June 5, 2014
News
June 5, 2014

The Delaware Supreme Court dismissed an appeal this week of an order requiring Al Jazeera to file an almost completely unredacted version of its complaint against AT&T from a 2013 contract dispute.

Despite having both parties file briefs and deliver oral arguments, the high court threw out the appeal without explaining why.

Calif. Supreme Court rules names of officers involved in on-duty shootings are public record

Bradleigh Chance | Freedom of Information | News | May 30, 2014
News
May 30, 2014

The Supreme Court of California this week upheld a lower court ruling requiring a police department to release the names of officers involved in on-duty shootings.

In December 2010, Los Angeles Times reporter Richard Winton asked the Long Beach City Attorney‘s Office for the names of the two police officers who shot and killed a man in Los Angeles.

The officers were responding to a resident’s tip about an intoxicated man carrying a six-shooter though the neighborhood. When they arrived on the scene, they found 35-year-old Douglas Zerby. According to the officers, Zerby held up an object resembling a gun and the two of them reacted by firing shots and killing him. When the officers approached his body, they could see that the object Zerby was holding was actually a garden hose with a pistol grip spray nozzle.

Flynt v. Lombardi

March 27, 2014

The Reporters Committee, joined by 13 other media organization, filed an amicus brief in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit seeking information about a case brought by death row prisoners. The prisoners' case at the district court level in Missouri focused on the lack of information available to the public about where the state gets its execution drugs. The court sealed several docket entries, one order, and many of the documents it relied upon to make decisions in the case. Publisher Larry Flynt moved to intervene in the case for the limited purpose of challenging those sealing orders; that motion was denied and he appealed. The Reporters Committee brief addressed the issue of standing to intervene for the purpose of unsealing court records, arguing that access is a public right and any denial is a "concrete harm."

Records in corporate challenge to government product-safety database must be open

Jamie Schuman | Secret Courts | News | April 17, 2014
News
April 17, 2014

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit instructed a Maryland district court yesterday to unseal in its entirety a consumer safety case that a company had sought to close on the grounds that disclosure would injure its reputation.

In 2011, a yet-to-be-identified manufacturer sued to stop the Consumer Product Safety Commission from publishing on an online database a report that one of its products caused an infant to die. After the district court sealed most of the record and let the company use a pseudonym, three consumer advocacy groups – Public Citizen, Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union – challenged the decision.

Ninth Circuit reinstates case challenging Calif. superior court record delay policy

Michael Rooney | Secret Courts | News | April 7, 2014
News
April 7, 2014

The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) reversed the dismissal of a challenge to the Ventura County, Calif. Superior Court’s document policy, which withheld from public inspection records filed with the court until administrators there completed processing – a procedure that could take several days, and, in some instances, much longer.

In early 2012, Courthouse News Services filed the action in federal court, claiming that the Ventura County Superior Court’s policy violated its First Amendment right of public access and its right to gather and disseminate news.

A lower court had previously dismissed CNS's suit on a rule that “permit[s] the federal courts to decline to decide matters ... which implicate sensitive state interests.”