Judge finds a First Amendment right to access civil complaints without delay

A federal judge in Virginia has concluded that there is a qualified right to review state court civil complaints immediately after they are filed. The judge’s ruling came after the Courthouse News Service sued Virginia state court officials, alleging that court clerks in two counties were instructed not to provide access to new complaints until the documents had been scanned and uploaded to a public access terminal.

The federal court declined to issue an injunction in the case, noting that state court officials appeared to be trying to comply with their obligations in good faith. The court required the parties to appear for a joint status conference in August to discuss the level of access provided by the defendants.

There is always a certain tension between the public’s right to know about civil cases brought in its court system, and respect for private litigants. But there is no question that the right balance here falls in favor of First Amendment rights. Litigants are free to seek orders that seal or otherwise protect their court filings in appropriate circumstances.

One thought on “Judge finds a First Amendment right to access civil complaints without delay”

  1. Important case indeed. Just worth to note:

    The judge wasn’t really impressed by the good faith of the clerks . And even doubting to some extent at least, their future conduct or compliance, here I quote from the ruling:

    “Here, declaratory judgment is appropriate….. ”

    This is because, I quote:

    ” ….this case is still presents an actual controversy of ” sufficient immediacy ” because Defendants voluntarily reduced their unlawful conduct and have not provided assurances that they will not resume it. ”

    And, I quote:

    “…the court find that both clerks refuse to accept the reality that they are fully capable of providing contemporaneous access ”

    Worth also to note, that, the request for injunction has been refused, since I quote:

    ” The public has a strong interest in its elected circuit court clerks having the ability to perform their duties in an efficient and cost effective manner ”

    Finally, they will appeal probably it seems. However the motion for certificate of appealability, has been approved by him, for several reasons ( interlocutory review).But,we fall short here.

    Here to the ruling:

    Click to access CNSSchaefer-OPINION.pdf



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