A US federal judge Friday found that a Florida state court violated Courthouse News Services’ First Amendment right to “timely access court documents.”
Courthouse News Services alleged that most civil complaints are unavailable to the public the day they are filed in Broward County Circuit Court. The news service argued that these delays in accessing court documents “seriously hamper Plaintiff’s ability to report on lawsuits in Broward County,” invoking the First Amendment right to free press and free speech.
Judge Mark Walker determined that Courthouse News Services’ First Amendment right to timely access court documents was violated by the state court’s filing system. Additionally, the county failed to show that granting the news service access to complaints and filings before processing the pleadings would hinder court operations or serve any administrative functions. Walker found the delays to be “entirely preventable.”
Overall, Walker found that the state court’s policies “unnecessarily inhibit the public’s right to monitor the judicial system[.]” He ordered the court to “confer and file a plan for providing timely public access to non-confidential civil complaints” on or before June 24. Once this court approves the state court’s plan, an injunction will be issued to direct compliance with the plan. The state court will then be required to provide continuous updates.