NEFAC Joins Effort to Protect Public’s Right to Immediately Access Civil Court Documents

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 | justin@nefirstamendment.org

The New England First Amendment Coalition recently joined 25 other news media organizations in an amicus brief filed in support of the public’s right to immediately access civil court complaints.

The case, Courthouse News Service v. Planet, is currently in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and involves a Superior Court practice of withholding civil complaints until court officials can process the documents. This processing often takes several days or longer. The amicus brief, drafted by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, argues that the First Amendment provides a right of access to these documents as soon as those documents are filed. With this right protected, the public and news media will benefit from more accurate news reporting and a better understanding of the court system.

“When reporters do not have access to court documents, they are deprived of the most reliable source of information for their reporting on lawsuits,” according to the brief. “Civil complaints are most newsworthy the day they are filed, and, accordingly, the media is most likely to report on the lawsuits of public interest and concern at that time, assuming the media is aware of the existence of the lawsuit in the first place.”

While the outcome of this case may not directly affect New England jurisdictions, the underlying issue is one of concern to our coalition, said Justin Silverman, executive director of NEFAC. This practice of delaying the release of court documents can significantly harm the public’s interest, he added.

“To delay the release of these documents would not only inhibit the ability of journalists to report timely information to their audiences, but it would also shield from public view those matters before the courts,” Silverman said. “This is information the public should be able to access immediately.”

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.