This article, originally published on November 30, 2021, has been updated to note recent developments in the case.
In early 2021, a Travis County district clerk filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit brought by Courthouse News Service (CNS) based on abstention. The motion failed, and the case proceeded with an amended complaint filed that added the Texas Office of Court Administration as a defendant. As lead counsel for CNS, Jackson Walker partner John K. Edwards recently submitted a motion for preliminary injunction against the Austin clerk and the Director of the state court administrative office to ensure newly-filed non-confidential civil petitions will be made available to the public and press upon receipt, not after delays caused by later administrative processing.
“The excuses for delaying public and press access to new petitions in Texas must end,” John noted in an article published on the CNS website. “The First Amendment requires timely access once a new petition is e-filed, and administrative processing tasks cannot justify denying that access.”
Prior to the March 13, 2022, submission of the motion for preliminary injunction, U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Hightower in the Western District of Texas – Austin Division issued a report and recommendation that the District Court deny the District Clerk’s motion to abstain, stating that the case “does not present the extraordinary circumstances necessary” for the Court to decline jurisdiction. U.S. District Court Judge Lee Yeakel accepted the recommendation and denied the abstention motion.
Following that decision, John stated, “Judge Hightower’s opinion rejecting abstention as a ground for dismissal is well reasoned and adds to the growing number of decisions rejecting the Seventh Circuit’s expansive view of abstention in the CNS v. Brown decision. Federal courts are uniquely qualified to address First Amendment court record access challenges, and the rote defense strategy seeking to avoid federal review by arguing abstention is no longer viable.”
For more information about the case, view the following articles:
- “Texas court administrator hit with First Amendment complaint,” (March 17, 2022)
- “Federal report in Texas knocks out central defense by clerks fighting First Amendment” (November 29, 2021)
- “State Court Clerks in New Mexico Delay Access to Court Records in Violation of the First Amendment, But an Adequate Remedy Proves Elusive” (October 29, 2021)
- “The calculator’s tale” (October 6, 2021)
John K. Edwards represents clients in complex commercial/tort litigation and arbitrations on a national basis, focusing on media and entertainment, government procurement and contracts, and employment law. John has routinely represented broadcast and print media companies in a wide variety of areas implicating the First Amendment, including defense of defamation and related speech-based claims, obtaining media access to government documents and court proceedings under state open court and public information laws, and defending against civil and criminal subpoenas issued to members of the media. John is lead counsel representing Courthouse News Service in the Travis County lawsuit and another lawsuit in New Mexico.