The state is asking a federal judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the Bangor Daily News and other publications over delayed access to documents in the judicial branch’s new e-filing system.
The news organizations’ complaint should be dismissed because changes that will be implemented March 15 will do away with the delay, the Maine attorney general’s office argued in the motion to dismiss filed Monday.
The state’s court system last year began implementing a $17 million electronic case filing system, beginning with civil, rather than criminal, matters. Under the original rules for that system, newly filed civil complaints would not have been made public until three business days after the clerk’s office was notified that the defendants in the case had received the complaint.
That could have kept complaints from being made public for up to three months.
After the lawsuit alleging that the rule violated the First Amendment was filed, the court system announced that it would fix the problem and make complaints available immediately. But, court officials said, in some cases the court system might need up to three business days to make sure the civil lawsuit is properly filed before it becomes publicly available.
Prior to the implementation of the e-filing system, copies of complaints filed on paper were available almost immediately after being docketed from clerks’ offices at courthouses throughout Maine.
Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Courthouse News Service, a national publication based in California focused on legal news, and the owners of the Portland Press Herald, Sun Journal and other daily newspapers in Maine. The complaint was first filed Feb. 3 and seeks a preliminary injunction that would force Maine’s court system to change its rules.
All news organizations have revised their original complaints to argue that the possible three-day delay in access is just as unconstitutional as a three-month delay. The Maine attorney general’s office argued that it expects in most instances the complaints would be available a few hours after filing while a clerk confirms plaintiffs have complied with filing rules and paid filing fees.
Asking to see electronically filed civil complaints immediately was like asking to see the document while the litigant was standing outside the clerk’s window without knowing if it would be filed or not, lawyers for the state said in their motion to dismiss.
Maine’s is the last court system in the country to convert from paper to electronic documents.
The pilot project for the e-filing system was launched last fall at the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor. It is expected to be implemented statewide over the next two years.
U.S. District Judge Nancy Torresen is expected to hear oral arguments in the case later this month, but a hearing date has not been set.