District Attorney Moves to Block OpenCourt Media Access
Update (08/02/12): A Special Assistant Attorney General (SAAG) filed papers today to the Supreme Judicial Court in defense of permitting OpenCourt’s operation.
Update (07/27/12): OpenCourt filed a memo to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in response to petitions from the District Attorney and CPCS.
On July 16, OpenCourt had planned to start livestreaming from Courtroom A at the Quincy District Court. However, due to a suit filed by Norfolk County District Attorney Michael Morrissey against the judges of the Quincy District Court, livestreaming has been postponed indefinitely pending a decision by a justice from the State Supreme Judicial Court.
The Committee for Public Counsel Services (CPCS) has joined the DA’s office in moving for injunctive relief against Quincy District Court justices who would allow OpenCourt to record hearings in Courtroom A that are open to the public. OpenCourt successfully intervened to be party in the case, and arguments from the three parties were heard in Superior Court on July 12 before Justice Kenneth J. Fishman.
As of this writing, OpenCourt is the only news organization currently prohibited from covering trials in Courtroom A, also known as Jury Room A. Rule 1:19, the Massachusetts Camera in the Court statute, presumes that courtrooms are open to media.
In a written ruling following the Norfolk County Superior Court hearing, Judge Fishman denied the plaintffs’ requests, referencing the hypothetical nature of their arguments did not seem to merit an order of relief from irreparable harm, and ultimately ruled that the case did not belong in his court’s jurisdiction.
However, a lawyer from the Attorney General’s office, representing the defendant Quincy District Court Justices, volunteered an agreement during arguments: to postpone allowing OpenCourt to cover proceedings outside of First Session– from where OpenCourt has streamed since May 2011 — pending review by a Single Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. OpenCourt objected to this agreement.
Members of OpenCourt have for months openly planned to begin coverage of Jury Room A, and were set to begin livestreaming proceedings on Monday, July 16. Those plans are currently in a temporary state of limbo as we await single justice review.
The SJC ruled in March on the Barnes case, which involved OpenCourt, that the state cannot order to stifle publication or redact footage of public proceedings legally recorded by a news organization on the constitutional grounds of how that would represent a prior restraint of First Amendment media rights. In the ruling, Justice Margot Botsford wrote that OpenCourt’s operations may continue on, with an expectation of responsible editorial guidelines the court would anticipate from “all news media organizations.”
Please view the documents below (the filings from CPCS, the DA’s office, the Special Assistant Attorney General, OpenCourt, and the Superior Court decision) for a fuller understanding each party’s legal stance. We’ll keep you posted with updates as they come.