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MFIA Team Files Appellate Brief on Behalf of Journalist Denied Access to Court Records

Yale Law School’s Media Freedom and Information Access Practicum (MFIA) has filed an appellate brief in New York state court on behalf of a journalist who was denied access to court records.

The records were filed in a civil lawsuit by the lead defendant convicted in a sweeping corporate corruption prosecution, who alleges that they reveal a deeper criminal conspiracy. The documents were sealed over the pro se objections of Jim Edwards, a journalist covering the criminal prosecution and the ensuing civil lawsuit.

According to the brief, “The improvised sealing process used in this case violated the public’s right of access to docket information, the public’s right to particularized findings of cause before documents are sealed, and the public’s continuing right to inspect the documents at issue, for which no adequate basis for sealing was ever provided.”

“Without tenacious journalists like Jim who simply don’t give up, we would never hear about those instances in which our access rights are unenforced,” said Patrick Kabat ’10, who drafted the brief under the supervision of David Schulz, a media lawyer at the law firm of Levine, Sullivan, Koch & Schulz. “Jim’s travails are symptomatic of the current beleaguered press climate. Journalists are worryingly underlawyered and often lack the resources to assert the public’s rights of access to government records and proceedings.”

MFIA’s public interest advocacy is a community effort. Stratton Faxon, a prominent Connecticut trial law firm based in New Haven, has supported the costs associated with MFIA’s defense of the public’s rights of access, including Jim Edwards’ appeal.

“We can no longer rely solely on our local newspapers and television stations to uncover the truth,” said Michael Stratton. “They no longer have the financial and human resources to get the job done. If we are to have an informed citizenry—so crucial for our democracy and jury system—we must support non-traditional information gatherers like MFIA.”

MFIA, an initiative of the Information Society Project and the Knight Law & Media Program at Yale Law School, was founded by four Yale Law School students to defend the public’s right of access to government information and to support traditional and emerging forms of newsgathering.