SPJ joins amicus brief supporting Prison Legal News’ FOIA request
For immediate release
Kevin Smith, SPJ President, 304-367-4864,
Karen Grabowski, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-927-8000 ext. 215,
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists has joined an amicus brief written by the Yale Supreme Court Clinic supporting the Prison Legal News’ appeal of a court order that denied the group access to trial information.
SPJ supports Prison Legal News, an independent magazine, which is arguing to a federal appellate court that it should receive access to trial exhibits that were once part of the public court record. Trial exhibits were withheld from the magazine because the court clerk had returned the information to the federal prosecutor after the trial concluded. Once the records are in the prosecutor’s custody, the trial court held, they are exempt under the Freedom of Information Act and therefore are not available to the public and PLN.
“We cannot sit idly by and let prosecutors and courts gain more advantages to denying court records,” SPJ President Kevin Smith said. “Our experiences in the media have shown too much vital information is (kept from the) public by judges and by the sealing of records. Allowing this adds to the growing number of roadblocks that deny the public important information.”
The brief argues that withholding trial documents because they had been returned to the prosecutor rather than remained in the court’s public file is inconsistent with the presumptive right of access to judicial documents. Also, it argues that restricting information because a prosecutor requested the documents back from the clerk constitutes de facto sealing of court records and could open the doors to similar requests in an effort to bar the media from public information.
This is not the first time SPJ has supported Prison Legal News. In March 2009, SPJ joined an amicus brief in support of the magazine when PLN sought and won access to records held by private corporations that contracted to run prisons in Tennessee on grounds that the contractors should be subject to the same open records laws as a government agency.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.