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Courthouse News Service wins access to court files

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  1. Newsgathering
A Texas court clerk cannot restrict journalists' access to court files for 24 to 72 hours after they are filed,…

A Texas court clerk cannot restrict journalists’ access to court files for 24 to 72 hours after they are filed, a federal judge said Tuesday in granting a preliminary injunction.

Courthouse News Service had sued Harris County District Clerk Loren Jackson in June because the court in Houston stopped providing same-day access to civil court filings. The clerk’s office  started delaying access last fall when it switched to electronic filing, claiming that the new system created the delay.

In the past, according to the order, reporters had been able to go behind the clerk’s counter and find new case filings that they were interested in, to either make copies or take notes from. But in October, the clerk’s office stopped allowing reporters access to the area behind the counter as a security measure. Then in November, the office switched from paper to electronic filing. Electronic filing created a delay of 24 to 72 hours before reporters could examine new files while waiting for the system to update.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Melinda Harmon granted the injunction against the clerk’s office after rejecting Jackson’s claim that the delay was a permissible time, place and manner restriction. Harmon said that the press has a First Amendment right to access civil court filings and that the clerk’s office did not have an overriding interest that would allow the delay.