The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has published a critique of guidelines recently released by a coalition of judicial and court administration groups. The guidelines have the potential to discourage states from making court records fully available electronically.
Electronic access to court records promises to benefit the public through better reporting on legal issues in every state, but the guidelines threaten to choke off much of that access out of an overreaching concern for privacy interests.
To help journalists make the case for openness as their states consider the guidelines in developing state court access policies, the Reporters Committee’s critique includes an outline of the major flaws of the guidelines, a list of examples where electronic access was used by journalists to tell stories they otherwise could not, and updates on current efforts to adopt electronic access policies in all the states. Journalists are encouraged to send in updates in their states as they learn of them.
The Reporters Committee’s main objection to the guidelines is their encouragement of categorical exemptions from disclosure based on the type of case or information, rather than case-by-case determinations of the need for sealing orders. Categorical exemptions will always be overbroad, and will cut off access to information that can serve the public interest, hold the courts accountable to the public, and allow the public to see how important social issues are handled by courts.
The report can be viewed at www.rcfp.org/courtaccess