Open government means open courts: How the Reporters Committee is working to shine a light on the judicial system

Earlier this month, in celebration of Sunshine Week, we turned our attention to highlighting the value of transparency and public information to our communities, both large and small. However, year-round we must continue to remember the importance of advocating for transparency and work to protect the rights of journalists who are shining a light into the darkest corners so the people can hold government accountable.

That’s why, in addition to fighting for access to legislative and executive branch records under freedom of information laws, year-round the Reporters Committee pursues litigation in state and federal courts in a concentrated effort to improve access to information about the judicial system. Under the First Amendment and common law, the press and public have a right to access court records and proceedings, but many courts continue to shield this information from public view.

For example, just last month, the Reporters Committee filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting a North Carolina newspaper’s lawsuit seeking access to records in a completely sealed civil case. The case, Doe v. Doe, involved a local businessman who reached settlements with multiple minors over sexual abuse allegations. Given the overbroad sealing in the case, the public would have had no way of knowing about the businessman’s settlements without The Fayetteville Observer’s discovery that he was party to the lawsuit. Read more…