Timely Press Access in New York Promised

(CN) – In the first hearing since Courthouse News won a First Amendment action against the clerk in Manhattan’s state court, the clerk’s lawyer promised U.S. District Court Judge Edgardo Ramos on Thursday that press and public would have timely access to new civil cases by the end of January.

In mid-December, Ramos enjoined Clerk Milton Tingling from continuing his practice of withholding press access to newly filed civil complaints while his staff went through a series of administrative steps called “processing.”

Representing Courthouse News, William Hibsher and Jacquelyn Schell with the Bryan Cave law firm showed that for decades the press corps had traditionally reviewed the new paper complaints in the state trial court in Manhattan at the end of the day, reporting on the controversies flowing into court earlier that day.

With the transition to electronic filing, access went backward. The clerk and his staff pushed the press corps down the line behind processing with the result that reporting was delayed. Plaintiff lawyers then leaked major cases to favored reporters before they could be seen at the courthouse.

Early in his campaign, for example, President-elect Donald Trump filed an action against TV network Univision over cancellation of his beauty pageant. That complaint was withheld by the clerk but leaked to the New York Post.

Ramos ruled in mid-December that the policy of withholding cases during processing violates the First Amendment, and he granted Courthouse News a preliminary injunction against the clerk’s practice.

On Thursday, in the first status conference since that ruling, lawyers for the parties again met in New York’s Southern District courthouse to discuss enforcement of the judge’s ruling.

Lee Adlerstein, deputy counsel for New York’s Office of Court Administration, said the clerk expected to have a modified and satisfactory New York State Supreme Court e-filing system up and running by Jan. 31.

He asked the judge to stay further activity in the case for four months to measure the effects of the new access policy and work out a long-term resolution of the case.

For Courthouse News, Hibsher said the news service is looking for a permanent injunction on the record. He also argued for a shorter period of time in which to either bring the case to resolution or resume active litigation.

Hibsher argued that his opponent’s proposal was “coupled with a very specific” amendment that sought a private agreement, rather than a permanent injunction on the record. And he shut down the idea of a private agreement, saying the litigation is “a case about transparency and access to courts and my client would not be amenable.”

At the end of the hearing Ramos said, “Discovery will be stayed for 90 days.”

Directing his comment towards Hibsher, he said, “You will continue to have the access you asked for.”

He then concluded, “There are any number of ways for this to be resolved. I leave that entirely up to the attorneys. If we need to litigate, we’ll litigate.”