California court administrators are trying to create a new definition for public documents that appears aimed at limiting press access. News and First Amendment groups submitted comments Friday calling the change a semantic "sleight of hand" that undermines fundamental press and public freedoms.
The new definition, slipped into proposed rules for electronic filing, appears intended to deny press access to newly filed controversies until after a series of bureaucratic tasks are completed, a process that can take days or weeks.
Press and First Amendment groups have delivered a lengthy comment to the Judicial Council, the policy-making body for California's courts, attacking the administrators' gambit. Those joining in the comment include the powerful California Newspaper Publishers Association, that counts the Los Angeles Times as a member, in addition to Californians Aware, the First Amendment Coalition and Courthouse News Service.