A news service is suing the Cook County clerk’s office for withholding copies of lawsuits from the press for days at a time.
Courthouse News Service filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court on Thursday against Dorothy Brown in her official capacity as Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County.
When electronic filing was first introduced in 2009, the clerk’s office printed out complaints as they were filed, which reporters could review alongside paper-filed complaints, according to the lawsuit.
In January 2015, the clerk’s office stopped printing out newly filed complaints and instead began withholding them from review until after staff members completed “administrative processing tasks,” according to the suit.
Now, the clerk’s office only makes newly filed complaints available to the press on a delayed basis, after processing and official “acceptance,” according to the suit. E-filing lawsuits with the clerk’s office is currently voluntary, but will become mandatory on Jan. 1, 2018.
“In recent months, nearly 40% – roughly two out of every five complaints, on average – were withheld from the press for a day or more, with delays stretching up to ten and eleven days, and even 28 in one instance,” according to the suit.
The lawsuits’ availability also varies greatly from day to day, according to the suit.
One example the suit cites is a complaint filed electronically on Oct. 6, stemming from injuries a Cubs fan suffered at Wrigley Field after being struck in the face by a foul ball.
The complaint was not made available to the media until Oct. 13, a full week after it was filed, according to the lawsuit.
However, the Chicago Tribune received a copy of the suit from the plaintiff’s attorney before it was made available to the public, and the newspaper ran the story on Oct. 9—well before Courthouse News Service and other media could see the complaint or were even made aware that it was filed.
The suit claims violation of the First Amendment and asks a federal judge to prohibit Brown from withholding access to newly filed complaints and for any other relief the court deems proper.
“The Clerk’s office is aware of the lawsuit, however, we have not been served and have nothing further to add,” spokeswoman Jalyne Strong said in an emailed statement.