Secret Courts

This section covers access to courts. Courtrooms traditionally have been open to the public, but judges often close proceedings or seal documents when they feel secrecy is justified. This section also covers state and federal laws governing camera coverage of trials.

CNS v. Yamasaki

January 8, 2018

RCFP filed an application for leave to re-file its previously accepted amicus brief in Courthouse News Service v. Yamasaki.  Courthouse News Service (CNS) filed suit against the Orange County clerk of court to challenge delays in the release of newly filed civil complaints.  RCFP filed an amicus brief on behalf of a coalition in support of CNS's motion for a preliminary injunction. Yamasaki has now filed a motion for summary judgment. RCFP's application asks the Court to consider its previously-filed amicus brief in support of CNS when determining the motion for summary judgment.

Comments on E.D. Texas Local Rule Amendments in General Order 17-24

November 30, 2017

The Reporters Committee submitted comments to the Eastern District of Texas regarding proposed local rule amendments in General Order 17-24.  The Reporters Committee commented on proposed Local Rule CV-5(a)(7)(E), concerning procedures for sealing of judicial records.  The comments highlighted the strong presumptions of public access to court records under the First Amendment and common law.  The comments urged the Court to revise its proposed rule to make clear that parties who wish to file judicial records under seal must file a motion to seal in all circumstances and that judicial records cannot be filed under seal absent a court order that makes specific findings that the presumptions of access have been overcome.

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.

Giuffre v. Maxwell

September 20, 2017

Appellants Alan Dershowitz and Michael Cernovich sought access to certain sealed judicial records in Giuffre v. Maxwell, a defamation action in the Southern District of New York. The district court entered a standing order in the case permitting the parties to file documents under seal without first seeking judicial approval, resulting in the filing of the majority of the substantive papers in the case under seal, including the papers in support of an opposition to the Defendant's motion for summary judgment. The amicus brief argues, among other things, that the district court's order permitting the sealing is contrary to the First Amendment and common law presumptions of access, and there are no compelling or countervailing interests justifying sealing in this case.

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

July 7, 2017

Courthouse News Service (CNS) challenged the policy of the Ventura County state court clerk of delaying disclosure of unlimited civil complaints to the public. CNS argued that it has a constitutional right to timely access the complaints that attaches immediately upon filing. After the lower court held that CNS had a right of timely access to the civil complaints, Planet appealed the decision. The Reporters Committee and 27 other media organizations argued that prompt access to civil complaints benefits the public because timeliness affects newsworthiness, prompt access promotes more accurate reporting, and prompt access promotes public understanding of the matters occupying the courts' dockets.

CNS v. Yamasaki

April 12, 2017

Courthouse News Service (CNS) challenged the policy of the Orange County court clerk of "processing" unlimited civil complaints before releasing them to the public. CNS argued that it has a constitutional right to timely access the complaints prior to processing. The court tentatively denied CNS's request to enjoin the clerk's delays and asked for further briefing on issues including CNS's business model, such as its subscribers and profits. The Reporters Committee and 13 other media organizations argued that prompt access to civil complaints before processing benefits the public because timeliness affects newsworthiness, promotes more accurate reporting, and promotes public understanding of the matters occupying the courts' dockets. The amici also argued that a news organization's for-profit status does not change the fundamental importance of the First Amendment right of access to judicial proceedings and records.

O'Reilly v. McPhilmy

February 7, 2017

A Gizmodo Media Group attorney was denied access to a court hearing and filings in O'Reilly v. McPhilmy (involving a fraud action brought by Bill O'Reilly against his ex-wife tied to their divorce and custody proceedings). The court sealed the records and closed the courtroom without making the necessary findings on the record. Gizmodo Media sought an appellate order for the immediate release of the transcript from the hearing that was closed. The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief agreeing with Gizmodo that closing the doors to the court and maintaining a seal on the materials at issue here without any written findings violated both the First Amendment and New York’s statutory right of access.

Weaver v. Massachusetts

March 6, 2017

The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in this Supreme Court case to underscore the importance of the First Amendment right of access to jury selection proceedings, known as voir dire. The case involves an ineffective assistance of counsel claim, where the defendant's counsel failed to object to closure of voir dire, a structural error under the Sixth Amendment. Our brief argued that prejudice should be presumed because denying the public access to jury selection is a fundamental violation of a First Amendment right.

HSBC Bank v. U.S.

October 28, 2016

The Reporters Committee filed an amicus brief in the Second Circuit with 26 media organizations arguing that details of an auditor’s report of HSBC Bank should be public. The auditor reports the bank’s compliance with a deferred prosecution agreement, as part of which HSBC agreed to pay $1.9 billion for money laundering. The brief argued that there is an overwhelming public interest in access to court documents involving newsworthy material, and that unsealing the monitor’s report will serve the vital functions of discouraging government misconduct and promoting informed public discourse.