A kayaker drowned in an attack by vicious swans and his family claims in court that the property owner should have known the animals were unreasonably dangerous.
It was with great relief that I heard last week that the 9th Circuit had ruled in our favor. It was on a procedural issue but the opinion said a whole lot more.
In the back of my mind, I always trusted that a federal court would likely see press access to court records as a constitutional issue. And a federal judge in Houston had ruled for Courthouse News on our challenge to the state court clerk there, ordering same-day access to the new actions.
But our similar challenge to the Ventura clerk hit blizzard-like conditions at oral argument in Pasadena. And I wasn't so sure anymore.
The challenge had a lot riding on it.
In the years since a few California courts adopted the clunky Court Case Management System, it was apparent that there was a militancy in court officials about pushing the press back. They believed the public's record was theirs to control as they saw fit.
At the time, we could only see the outward manifestation of that belief. We were stuck behind the bureaucracy's stone wall, waiting for days and weeks to see written court proceedings.
By the time we could get to it, a new filing was no longer news. Newspapers walked away from the coverage.
And there was no compromise from the bureaucrats, no bend, no reason, and at times a sneering dismissal of the role of the press, particularly evident in Orange County, another CCMS court.
But in the intervening years, I realized there was an ideology behind the militancy.
I first saw it a few years ago in Sacramento, in the arrogant and hard expression of bureaucrats who had just put CCMS in place and who told us in essence that a written court proceeding wasn't public until they said so.
And it came into the light for all to see in the new e-filing rules passed by the Judicial Council last year, over the strong objections of CNS, the L.A. Times and the California Newspaper Publishers Association.
The rules sidled into the notion that a court proceeding is not "official" until it is processed, and therefore not public until then. The rules were formed with the help of Orange County bureaucrats -- adopters of CCMS -- working with the Administrative Office of the Courts -- promoters of CCMS -- and pushed through by state judges leading the technology committee -- defenders of CCMS.
Just in case one were unfamiliar with the fate of the disastrous software project, it was abandoned in 2012 after wasting a half-billion-dollars in public funds. Those behind the project remain in power.
In a craven logic, the e-filing rules suggest that a state statute defining a public record as the kind of thing that gets put in a file should be interpreted to mean that a record must be put in a file in order to be considered public.
So if it takes a couple months to put the new proceeding in a file -- too bad. Such gamesmanship with the words of a well-meaning California statute promoting transparency must be called to account, at some point.
While the ideology of the CCMS crew was not before the 9th Circuit, its outward manifestation was.
In Ventura, which also runs the junked software, the clerk refused to let the media see new matters until they were processed, delaying access for days, with individual cases avoiding review for extended periods.
The brunt of 9th Circuit Judge Kim Wardlaw's ruling was to say that access to state court records is a First Amendment issue that belongs in federal court, overturning the trial court judge who abstained. But in her opinion, she also rejected the argument that providing prompt press access would put an overwhelming burden on the courts.
"The Ventura County Superior Court has available a variety of measures to comply with an injunction granting CNS all or part of the relief requested," Wardlaw wrote. "For instance, the court could provide reporters with a key to a room where new complaints are placed in boxes for review before being processed, as does the Los Angeles Division of the U.S. District for the Central District of California.
"To permit same day access, the Ventura County Superior may not need to do anything more than allow a credentialed reporter -- the same reporter who has been regularly visiting the court for the past twelve years -- to go behind the counter and pick up a stack of papers that already exist."'
And then, in an unmistakable shot across the bow, the judge added:
"We also trust that the Ventura County Superior Court would comply with any federal injunction requiring it to make unlimited civil complaints available within a specified time period."
It will be interesting to see how the the clerk and the administrative office react.
Will they listen to the 9th Circuit and, as the clerk in Houston listened to Judge Melinda Harmon, and return traditional, same-day access to the press. Or will they continue to bankroll a white-shoe law firm with public money in order to fight press access every step of the way.
One is the way of a reasonable public official operating in good faith. The other is the way of a bureaucracy imbued with a sense of pride, power and entitlement with little or no compunction about how it wastes public funds.
I have my guess, but let's see what happens.
In an interview with CNS correspondent Adam Klasfeld, Ecuadorean President Rafeal Correa addresses a wide range of topics from oil exploration and environmental damage in the Amazon to the restructuring of Ecuador's judiciary and his talk with WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange.
A gambler who claims to be the "greatest professional poker player of all time" exploited an imperfection in a popular brand of playing cards to bilk casinos of millions of dollars, the Borgata Hotel Casino clams in court.
A woman who sings and dances in a banana costume does not have a copyright-infringement claim related to videos of her posted on Facebook, the 7th Circuit ruled.
Chicago derivatives exchanges sold price data and unexecuted order information to high-frequency traders "before anyone else in the financial world," even before subscribers to its "real-time" data service, allowing high frequency traders to trade on nonpublic information, a class action claims in Federal Court.
A man who claimed to know the most famous soccer players in the world tricked a licensing company into buying nonexistent rights to print posters of Lionel Andrés Messi, Neymar da Silva Santos Júnior and Cristiano Ronaldo, the licensing company claims in court.
A Kenyan consular official made a countrywoman work for her 11 hours a day for six months in Los Angeles at $1 per hour without a day off, the young woman claims in court.
An HR boss for the nation's largest provider of services to disabled people constructively fired a woman by forcing her to give him oral sex and then calling her at 2 a.m. and demanding phone sex, the woman claims in court.
An off-duty San Antonio police officer shot to death an unarmed black man as he walked away from a restaurant drive-through, the man's parents claim in court.
The SEC claims that San Diego-based Total Wealth Management, its CEO and others misled investors by paying themselves kickbacks or so-called "revenue-sharing fees."
The city of Glendale asked a federal judge to dismiss the constitutional claims of two Japanese-Americans irked by the city's monument to women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese army in World War II.
The Republican National Committee sued the Internal Revenue Service for information on its criteria for reviewing and approving 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization applications, in a federal FOIA complaint.
The Tea Party Patriots sued the Internal Revenue Service for information on its "Guidance for Tax Exempt Social Welfare Organizations on Candidate-Related Political Activities," in a federal FOIA complaint.
Fish and Wildlife Service scientists must have a say on the renewal of water contracts that could affect the endangered delta smelt in California's Central Valley, the full 9th circuit ruled Wednesday.
There is no proof that stricter air-quality standards for carbon-monoxide levels would alleviate the effects of global warming or improve public health, the D.C. Circuit ruled.
Apple and fellow tech giants asked a federal judge to exclude Justice Department evidence in a contentious wage dispute, calling the consent decree inadmissible "hearsay."
The New York City Police Department announced the shuttering of a Demographics Unit that spied on Muslims in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
An insurer need not defend an attorney sued for legal malpractice after his misfiling cost a paralyzed client her medical malpractice case.
Former Navy officer Brandon W. Schroth was sentenced Tuesday to 40 years in federal prison for 12 felony counts of sexual exploitation of a child and aggravated sexual abuse of a child younger than 12, the U.S. attorney said.
A consumer alleging that Amy's Kitchen mislabels the use of sugar in its products as evaporated cane juice must amend his class action, a federal judge ruled.
Wells Fargo will pay $625,000 under a settlement approved by a federal judge in the class action regarding force-placed flood insurance on home mortgages.
Bloomberg news service stiffed analytics employees for overtime, a class action claims in Federal Court.
Securities regulators cannot compel issuers to "confess blood on [their] hands," and declare whether their products are "DRC conflict free" on their websites, the D.C. Circuit ruled.
After settling claims that it failed to honor consumer warranties on iPhones and iPod Touches, Apple owe class counsel $13.25 million, a federal judge ruled.
A woman was defamed when the family of her ex-lover called her a murderer after his disappearance, the Connecticut Appellate Court ruled, upholding a $52,600 verdict.
A man convicted twice for the same murder can sue the Ventura County Sheriff's Department for failing to read him his rights, the 9th Circuit ruled Tuesday.
A laborer claims his 23-year career exposed him to various toxic substances manufactured by more than two dozen companies.
A political gadfly who wants to issue anonymous pamphlets criticizing candidates clams Rhode Island and the Town of Smithfield unconstitutionally prohibit that, in Federal Court.
An Atlanta policeman shot a passenger in a car, from behind, without cause, the man claims in Fulton County Superior Court.
The Cracker Barrel Old Country Store fired a worker for complaining that a co-worker sexually harassed and manhandled her, she claims in Federal Court.
Long Corner Consumer Electronics claims Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, Toshiba et al. violate patent on a computer pointing device, in 13 federal lawsuits.