NEFAC, Media Groups Defend First Amendment Right to Court Records in Maine

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition recently argued for immediate access to civil complaints in Maine saying that current delays are unconstitutional.

“Robust, accurate news reporting requires timely access to civil complaints,” according to a Dec. 15 amicus brief drafted by the Reporters Committers for Freedom of the Press on behalf of NEFAC and other media groups.

“Because freshness and speed are key aspects of the news business, delays of even a day can result in a complete denial of meaningful access, both for reporters and for the members of the public who rely on the press for information,” they wrote.

The case — Courthouse News Service v. Glessner — is currently being heard by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. It is challenging a 2020 policy by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that allows public access to newly filed civil complaints be delayed until three business days after a clerk accepts them with proof of service of process on at least one defendant.

NEFAC and fellow amici explained in their brief that the First Amendment guarantees a qualified right of access to judicial proceedings and documents. This right is essential to the public’s understanding of the judicial process, they wrote.

“The quintessential legal document, a complaint initiates litigation and frames the issues presented — providing the first picture of a case’s who, what, when, where, and why,” according to the brief. “In short, reporters need timely access to complaints in order to inform the public about what is happening in court.”

NEFAC has a long history of advocating for better access to judicial records. The coalition joined similar amicus brief efforts in 2014, 2016, 2017 and 2019. In October, NEFAC intervened in a New Hampshire case to argue for the release of documents that were inappropriately sealed. In May, NEFAC joined several media organizations to successfully sue Vermont court officials over delays in public access.

All NEFAC briefs, advocacy letters and statements can be found here.

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.

Leadership Circle donors for 2021 include Hearst Connecticut Media Group, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, and the Robertson Foundation. Major Supporters include Boston University, WBUR-Boston, the Academy of New England Journalists and Genie Gannett.