Jackson Walker Represents Courthouse News in Efforts to Expedite Access to Electronic Court Filings

February 26, 2021 | Client Results

Jackson Walker attorneys John K. Edwards, Charles L. Babcock, and Joel R. Glover are representing Courthouse News Service (CNS) in two lawsuits filed in Harris and Travis counties as the legal news organization seeks prompt access to new case-initiating petitions that are electronically filed with state civil courts.

In the Harris County suit, CNS is asking a federal judge to reform a prior injunction against the District Clerk’s office, obtained by Jackson Walker in 2010, to provide more timely access due to technological advancements and a change in First Amendment access law. The County is resisting the request, arguing among other things that more timely access would be costly and would create privacy concerns due to the possibility of confidential information being made public. CNS counters that there is no cost associated with implementing an existing press review portal, and there is no legitimate privacy concern as exemplified by the PACER system in federal court, which provides the same level of access as CNS is requesting.

In October 2020, John Edwards told Law360 that while at the time of the prior injunction there were fewer than 10 after-hours filings on any given day, the skyrocketing number of those filings has substantially increased the need for quicker document access. “It’s clearly within the ability of the district clerk to provide their access, but they’re not willing to do it,” he said. “The facts have changed significantly over the last 10 years, and the law has changed.”

The case, Courthouse News Service v. Jackson et al., No. 4:09-cv-01844, was filed in the Southern District of Texas.

In the Travis County suit, CNS recently filed a First Amendment action against the Travis County District Clerk for delayed access to new filings that often involve matters of great public interest, resulting in “old news.” Similar to the Harris County suit, the Travis County District Clerk delays press access to new petitions until after administrative processing, creating unnecessary delays that harm the press and public.

In an article regarding the Travis County suit, John said, “While court clerks have offered up a number of reasons to delay access, perhaps the most important reason is a threat to their revenue for charging for access to the court record. The revenue generated from selling court records is an off-budget revenue item. It serves as a powerful reason to preclude on-receipt access because the money is not earmarked for any specific purpose. It’s for anything the clerk wants.”

The case, Courthouse News Service v. Velva L. Price, No. 1:20-cv-01260, was filed in the Western District of Texas – Austin Division. More information about that lawsuit can be found here.

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