Federal lawsuit over delayed access to Maine Civil Court digital records dismissed

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A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit that sought the immediate accessibility of civil cases in the electronic filing program of the Maine court system.

The lawsuit, filed in February, said rules about when civil complaints were made public violated the newspaper’s First Amendment right to access court records. The lawsuit also sought a preliminary injunction that would force the Maine court system to change its rules.

The Bangor Daily News was a plaintiff in the lawsuit alongside Courthouse News Service – a California-based national publication focused on legal news – the owners of the Portland Press Herald and the Lewiston Sun Journal, as well as other local newspapers from the state.

Under the rules of the state judicial system’s electronic case filing system – which began to be implemented in 2020 – newly filed civil complaints were not made public until three working days after the office of the clerk was informed that the defendants in the case had received the complaint.

However, under Maine’s rules of civil procedure, a plaintiff had 90 days from filing to serve the complaint on the defendants. This meant that it could take more than three months for civil complaints to be made public.

Three weeks after the complaint was filed, the Maine judiciary announced that new civil cases could be viewed digitally after clerks processed them – saying it should not take more than four business hours – and the state then filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. , reported the Portland Press Herald.

United States District Court Judge Nancy Torreson on Friday allowed the state’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, saying in her order that “the plaintiffs’ challenge is about the time, not the denial of public access. This distinction makes a difference, ”the Press Herald reported.

“The applicants’ position is that anything that is not immediate access to reception violates their First Amendment rights. I disagree, as do most courts, “Torresen wrote, adding that” there is no right of instant access upon receipt by the court of new civil complaints, “reported the newspaper.

Torreson also denied the plaintiff’s request for a preliminary injunction.


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