Delays to files ‘can result in a complete denial of meaningful access,’ argues brief signed by NFOIC

The National Freedom of Information Coalition joined a Dec. 15, 2021, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press amici curiae brief. The brief, signed by 28 organizations, urges a federal appeals court to overrule a lower court that allowed Maine court clerks to delay public access to newly filed civil complaints.

Maine’s recently implemented amendments to its court rules required court clerks to complete an administrative review of court files. No deadlines or time limits were specified for completion of the review. Courthouse News Service and other Maine-based media entities challenged the rules as unconstitutional, for violating the public’s First Amendment right to inspect court records.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Maine dismissed the complaint. Courthouse News Service, et al. v. Glessner, et al., is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.

“Robust, accurate news reporting requires timely access to civil complaints,” the brief reads. “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. Prompt access to civil complaints ensures that the public learns about important cases while they are still newsworthy, promotes accuracy in reporting, and leads to more meaningful public debate about those cases.”