Ticket law firm not entitled to immediate access to court records says Fifth Circuit

Sullo & Bobbitt, P.L.L.C. v. Milner No. 13-10869 (5th Cir. August 6, 2014).

This is a constitutional and public information case involving a ticket law firm which sought immediate access to misdemeanor citations through declaratory judgment. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of such claims.

Sullo & Bobbitt, P.L.L.C. is a law firm in Dallas that advertises legal representation for misdemeanor offenses. It filed suit against various Texas officials challenging the constitutionality of Texas laws and municipal procedures asserting they interfered with the attorney’s right to represent their clients. They claim federal law and the U.S. Constitution require “quick access” to court records to mean near immediate access without having to go through Rule 12 or the Texas Public Information Act. [Comment: the main reason for this is they want to advertise by targeted mailing and waiting too long before receiving the information usually means a good portion of the potential client pool will have already pled guilty or sought defensive driving). Sullo & Bobbitt offered to pay for the installation of computer systems to make the docket and ticket information available online or, in the alternative, to manually send an employee to the court on a daily basis. However their request was refused. They filed a declaratory judgment seeking to compel access within one business day of the date of a citation. The trial court dismissed the claims and Sullo & Bobbitt appealed.

The U.S. Supreme Court adopted a two-part “experience and logic” test to determine right of access to court records. The 5th Circuit first held Sullo & Bobbitt failed to argue the test should not apply at the trial court level, instead arguing that their pleadings satisfy the test. While the law firm argued several courts in Texas have given such electronic access, they failed to establish a national trend to provide such access in the “next business day” manner. As a result, the law firm failed to establish it satisfied the Supreme Court test which would have required such a national trend. The trial court’s order of dismissal was affirmed.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Justices DAVIS, SMITH, and CLEMENT.  Per Curiam opinion. The attorney listed for Sullo & Bobbitt is Lawrence S. Fischman.  The attorney listed for the City and court is Robert Harris Fugate.