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

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  1. Court Access
The U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) reversed the dismissal of a challenge to the Ventura County,…

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.”

When the defendant, Ventura County Superior Court, asked the Ninth Circuit to dismiss Courthouse's appeal of the lower court ruling, a three-judge panel at the Ninth Circuit determined that the case "presented an important First Amendment question involving the right of access to public records and proceedings that should be decided by the federal courts." The panel also determined that the relief sought by the plaintiff would not encroach upon the state's rights and functions. The panel did not rule on the merits of the claim, but instead ordered the lower court to reconsider CNS's case.

In a June 2012 friend-of-the-court brief, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press wrote on behalf of Courthouse News, arguing that federal courts must remain available as a forum for challenging state court policies that systemically restrict the news media’s right of access to state judicial proceedings and records and that severely curtail journalists' ability to serve the public interest.