York Daily Record v. Byrnes
Case Number: 1:22-cv-00361-SHR
Court: U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania
Clients: York Daily Record, The York Dispatch, Spotlight PA, LNP Media Group, Inc., WITF
Complaint Filed: March 11, 2022
Background: Starting in February 2021, Pennsylvania’s York County Clerk of Courts established policies and practices that resulted in delayed, costly and improperly restricted access to judicial records.
Under the direction of Daniel Byrnes, the elected Clerk of Courts, staff acted as gatekeepers to records members of the press and public have a presumptive right of access to under the U.S. Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution. Journalists in Pennsylvania extensively documented how Clerk of Courts staff members frequently delayed access to judicial records and regularly redacted documents, even though they didn’t have the authority to do so.
On behalf of five Pennsylvania news organizations, Reporters Committee attorneys filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Byrnes. The lawsuit claims that the York County Clerk of Courts violated the U.S. Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution by redacting and withholding court records and delaying and denying access to court records. In the complaint, the news organizations ask the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania to order the York County Clerk of Courts to discontinue his unlawful policies and practices and to issue a judgment declaring the clerk’s policies and practices unconstitutional.
Quote: “Journalists from news organizations across the state regularly rely on court records to produce timely and comprehensive reporting about what’s happening in the judicial system,” said Paula Knudsen Burke, RCFP’s Local Legal Initiative attorney in Pennsylvania, who is representing the news outlets. “When that access is improperly delayed, limited or denied, it’s not only unconstitutional, but it also makes it more difficult or even impossible to provide the reporting that hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians depend on to better understand public safety and how their local courts are operating.”
Update: On Oct. 10, 2022, the news organizations reached a settlement agreement with the York County Clerk of Courts to improve public access to judicial records. On Nov. 16, 2022, following implementation of the settlement, the court dismissed the case at the parties’ request.
2022-03-15: Plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction
2022-03-29: Defendant’s response in opposition to plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary injunction
2022-04-12: Plaintiffs’ reply in support of motion for preliminary injunction
2022-05-10: Defendant’s answer to complaint
2022-05-31: Case management order
2022-05-31: Order setting preliminary injunction hearing
2022-10-10: Settlement agreement
2022-10-10: Settlement agreement Exhibit A
2022-10-10: Settlement agreement Exhibit B
2022-11-16: Joint stipulation of voluntary dismissal