Courthouse News Service, a national news publication that reports on state and federal level legal proceedings, is suing an Idaho court administrator for refusing to provide reporters with same-day access to legal proceedings.
Filed on July 23rd in the United States District Court for the State of Idaho, the lawsuit claims that the Idaho court is violating the journalists’ First Amendment right to access non-confidential court documents in a timely manner.
Back when courts used paper court records, reporters typically sifted through a cart in the court clerk’s office that contained the lawsuits that had been filed that day. When courts switched to electronic court records, many states kept the tradition by adopting a “virtual cart,” such as the computer software called Press Review Queue. This way, journalists didn’t have to wait until the complaints were fully processed, which could take days, at which point the story might not be newsworthy.
According to the complaint, Idaho has refused to adopt a “virtual cart” system, and instead makes reporters wait until complaints are fully processed. Courthouse News lawyers claim this decision conflicts with 2020 Planet III, a 2020 Ninth Circuit ruling that requires courts to provide journalists with “timely” access to non-confidential complaints unless restriction is necessary “to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve those interests.”
Courthouse News claims that Idaho’s decision to forgo a “virtual cart” system has caused numerous delays in their reporting, and that these delays are “unnecessary” and “easily avoidable.”
“The vast majority of federal courts and many state courts configure their e-filing and case management systems to automatically allow access to non-confidential civil complaints upon their receipt by the court. State courts that provide on-receipt access include courts in Hawaii, California, Washington, Utah, Alabama, Georgia, Connecticut, New York, and soon in Arizona,” the complaint states.