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Lawyer's Right of Access to Traffic Ticket Records Claim Fails

By William Peacock, Esq. on August 11, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Barry Bobbitt and his law firm, Sullo & Bobbitt P.L.L.C., had a great idea for getting new clients: send mailings to every single person who gets a ticket using information on the court's docket.

Alas, there was a problem: They had trouble accessing the records in time. Prospective clients were often required to respond to their ticket within 21 days, but the public records weren't available in most cases until as much as 30 days after the incident, reports Texas Lawyer.

The firm's solution? Argue "right of access" to the records within 24 hours. Let's see how the Fifth Circuit felt about it:

But Every Other Court Is Isn't Doing It

According to Texas Lawyer, this case didn't even make it to oral arguments -- the panel canceled the arguments and decided the case on the briefs alone.

The outcome, as you may have guessed, was not favorable for the firm. The panel applied the U.S. Supreme Court's "experience and logic" test from Press-Enterprise II. The test asks whether "courts throughout the United States" have released the information requested. As you may have guessed, courts don't typically release all records within 24 hours:

"While they may be correct that the Supreme Court has not described at length what is required for a practice to be adopted nationwide, appellants' failure to even allege that other municipalities provide access to these documents within one business day of their filing simplifies our inquiry. After correctly applying the experience test to Sullo & Bobbitt's claims, the district court did not err in holding that the right to immediate access to these types of court records is not established throughout the United States."

Whose Contemporaries Are They, Anyway?

Bobbit argued that the standard shouldn't be "throughout the United States." The panel, in a footnote, pointed out that, at least in this case, it really makes no difference which contemporaries are used as a reference point:

"Even assuming that Sullo & Bobbitt are correct that we can limit our consideration under the experience test to neighboring Texas municipalities' practices, their own evidence does not establish any right to access court records within one business day of their filing. In their Second Amended Complaint, Sullo & Bobbitt allege: 'By comparison with the Defendant entities, the cities of Carrollton, Grand Prairie, and Richardson provide access to the records much more quickly. For example, over 85% of Carrollton's court case records are made available within 3 days. About 85% of Grand Prairie's court case records are made available within 7 days. About 92% of Richardson's court case records are made available within 3 days.' [...] Sullo & Bobbitt thus ask this court to declare as constitutionally required practices that are not even in place in the few municipalities they hold out as exemplars."

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