A federal lawsuit challenging Maine court rules covering public access to digital civil court records has been amended to include an objection to a new rule adopted days after the lawsuit was filed by the Portland Press Herald and a national news service.

The original suit was aimed at a Maine court rule that said records filed in its new electronic system could be withheld from the public until three days after the court received notice that the parties had been served.

Maine law allows service up to 90 days after a suit is filed, meaning public access to a filing could be delayed for months. No such delay was in place under the paper filing system that Maine is moving away from.

A few days after the initial suit was filed, the state court system said it would speed up public access, making documents available three business days after clerks have checked that the filing had all the information required, such as the Maine Bar registration number of the lawyer filing it and the payment of various fees.

Most courts have ruled that legal documents should be available to the public immediately after they are filed with the court. Maine court officials have not said why they adopted the new rule.

“The new rule replaces one First Amendment violation with another,” the amended lawsuit said. “The Defendants are holding up First Amendment access in order to check for possible clerical errors that can readily be corrected.”

The suit points out that under the new rule, a record filed on a Friday might not be available until the following Wednesday and one filed the Friday before a three-day weekend could be unavailable until the following Thursday.

“Numerous courts have struck down e-filing regimes that involved much less delay as intolerable under the First Amendment,” the amended suit said.

The suit was filed by the companies that own the Press Herald, Kennebec Journal, Morning Sentinel and Sun Journal, and by the national Courthouse News Service. The company that owns the Bangor Daily News filed a motion to intervene alongside the other news organizations.

The plaintiffs filed their complaint in the U.S. District Court in Bangor. The named defendants are Ted Glessner, the state court administrator, and Peter Schleck, the clerk of the Penobscot County Superior Court.

An email sent to the Maine Judicial Branch seeking comment late Thursday night was not returned.

Sigmund D. Schutz, the lawyer representing the newspapers, said there are two other problems with the court’s procedures. One is that the rule blocking access until after notices of service have been filed will remain in place until March 15. In addition, the wording of the new rule doesn’t specify three business days for administrative processing, so delays in gaining access to civil records could be longer.

In a release announcing the new rule Monday, a spokeswoman for the Maine Judicial Branch said the court system was trying to provide “maximum reasonable public access to court records and minimizing the risk of harm to individuals and entities involved in court proceedings.”

The release also called the years-long effort to shift to an electronic record system similar to one used in federal court “an evolving process” and said further changes may be made as the court system gains experience with electronic filing.

The lawsuit challenging the rules asks the federal court for a preliminary injunction to prevent them from being implemented as the suit goes forward.

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