An identified non-party who is denied access to court has and can assert a presumed right of access even if he or she is the only person excluded. The rights accorded by the First Amendment provide protection for the individual.
Plaintiff, a self-proclaimed "citizen reporter," was a long-time critic of the Vermont justice system who had sought to disseminate his message using a wide variety of means and media. He became infuriated by what he thought was his mistreatment by judges and prosecutors in the course of criminal proceedings against him. He began to include angry denunciations of them in his public communications. Vermont officials broadly prohibited the citizen's presence in and around certain state courthouses. The citizen challenged the decision entered by the district court in the citizen's action brought under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, as well as the U.S. Constitution. The court affirmed in part the district court's decision, but vacated that portion of the decision that denied the citizen's motion for summary judgment for violation of his First Amendment right of access insofar as it related to declaratory and permanent injunctive relief, and remanded with instructions.
Whether the plaintiff has an individual First Amendment right of access to court proceedings and courthouse grounds, even where he was not a party to and had no other official connection with them.
The appellate court found that the citizen had an individual First Amendment right of access to court proceedings even though he was not a party to and had no other official connection with them. However, this individual right was not well-settled at the time of the events at issue and that defendants were therefore entitled to qualified immunity with respect thereto. Although the courthouses and grounds were nonpublic forums, singling the citizen out for a prohibition against his ability to express himself on any subject in those locations violated his First Amendment right to express himself. The sheriff and the department were protected by sovereign immunity from the lawsuit insofar as it sought retrospective relief.