NEFAC Calls for Immediate Access to Civil Court Documents in Ninth Circuit

Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition called for the immediate release of civil court documents in the Ninth Circuit today, saying such access is constitutionally required and beneficial to the public.

“The press and the public have a right to learn about matters consuming judicial resources and occupying space on the dockets of the public court system,” argued NEFAC and other press advocates in an Oct. 10 amicus brief. “Civil complaints are the foundational documents in a case and reveal a wealth of information about how litigants use the judicial branch, how the law exposes citizens to suit or provides remedies, and how effectively the judiciary functions.”

The brief — drafted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — was filed in Courthouse News Service v. Yamasaki, a case in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

While New England is outside the Ninth Circuit, the questions addressed in this case are similar to those heard by local courts and demand the region’s attention, said Justin Silverman, NEFAC’s executive director.

In April, for example, NEFAC urged the Vermont Attorney General’s Office to stop defending a state court practice that could potentially delay the release of lawsuit filings for two months or longer. The practice was eventually stopped.

“Timely access to government information is an essential part of the public’s right to know,” Silverman said. “We need to make sure that access isn’t denied.”

In Yamasaki, a lower federal court in California ruled that timely access to civil complaints was being provided because 89 percent of all complaints became public within eight business hours. With the case now on appeal, amici explained that while this may not initially appear to be a much of a delay, it could permit lengthy, unconstitutional delays.

NEFAC previously joined amicus briefs in Courthouse New Service v. Planet, another Ninth Circuit case addressing similar access issues. The coalition regularly advocates for the public’s right to know and stronger freedom of information laws. Most recently, NEFAC filed an amicus brief arguing that emails on private servers fell within the scope of Vermont’s public records law and advocated for online access to judicial documents in Maine.

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Major Supporters of NEFAC for this year include the Barr Foundation, The Providence Journal Charitable Legacy Fund, The Robertson Foundation, Lois Howe McClure, The Boston Globe and Boston University. Celebration Supporters include The Hartford Courant and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.