OpenCourt wins a crucial First Amendment case

John Davidow of WBUR and OpenCourt

Please pardon the near-silence I’ve been maintaining here. I’m co-chairing a faculty search committee, and this week and next leave me with little time for anything other than that and teaching. (And picking arguments on Twitter.)

But I do want to call your attention to an important decision by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court. On Wednesday, the court ruled that OpenCourt, the WBUR-affiliated project that offers gavel-to-gavel coverage of proceedings in Quincy District Court, cannot be ordered by the government to redact any of its coverage.

Essentially, what happened was this. The lawyer for the defendant in a horrific child-rape case blurted out the name of the victim during public court proceedings. District Attorney Michael Morrissey sought to impose an order prohibiting OpenCourt from including the girl’s name in its video archives.

OpenCourt argued, rightly in my view, that as a matter of standard journalistic practice, no news organization present would use the girl’s name — but that it would violate the First Amendment to order such discretion. Underscoring OpenCourt’s argument is that several news organizations were present that day, yet Morrissey sought an order only against OpenCourt.

The SJC’s decision says in part:

We conclude that any order restricting OpenCourt’s ability to publish — by “streaming live” over the Internet, publicly archiving on the Web site or otherwise — existing audio and video recordings of court room proceedings represents a form of prior restraint on the freedoms of the press and speech protected by the First Amendment and art.

OpenCourt and the DA’s office have been at loggerheads from the beginning. The SJC’s ruling should provide some clarity to what had been a murky situation.

John Davidow, executive editor of new media at WBUR and the force behind OpenCourt, recently spoke about the project and the SJC case with my media-law students. Joe Spurr, OpenCourt’s director, was a student in my media-law class a few years ago.

What they’re doing is an important experiment in opening up what has traditionally been the most closed part of government.

About these ads

7 thoughts on “OpenCourt wins a crucial First Amendment case

  1. L.K. Collins

    Don’t forget, Dan, to ask your candidates their political views.

    You sure wouldn’t want to be allow a conservative to sneak into the hallowed halls of ivy.

    What would THAT mean to academic freedom?

    And BTW, any court following the principles of law would have come to the same decision as the SJC. It is interesting — and a commentary on the Massachusetts court system — that the case got as far as it did.

  2. Christopher King, J.D.

    This is big but watch out there are changes afoot that threaten crucial aspects of news gathering:

    http://christopher-king.blogspot.com/2012/03/kingcast-goes-to-aclu-on-july-1-2012.html

    19 MARCH 2012

    KingCast goes to ACLU on the July 1, 2012 changes to SJC 1:19 Cameras in Courtroom: No cameras in the common areas!

    It is uncanny that I went to the Courthouse today with the public records request at left to determine what the rule really is regarding non-covert videotaping in all areas of the courthouse. I put in my request because a Court clerk bellowed at me “You can’t do that,” as I was covering Clifford Pisano’s lawsuits against Revere, Mass, SJC wonk Tom Ambrosino, Boxford Police Chief Michael Murphy and Revere Bad Cop Todd Randall, presently residing at Club Fed somewhere down South. Watch the above video at 5:30 in. These gents are no strangers to paying out litigation, see the “Black niggers” journal entry reflecting the allegations of then Plaintiff Israel Vieux. Nasty stuff. Very nasty. And Messrs Ambrosino and Murphy failed to acknowledge that it even happened, I have read the Court file.

    It is uncanny that I went to the Courthouse today with the public records request at left to determine what the rule really is regarding non-covert videotaping in all areas of the courthouse. The new Rule was published about an hour after I arrived! I put in my request because a Court clerk bellowed at me “You can’t do that,” as I was covering Clifford Pisano’s lawsuits against Revere, Mass, SJC wonk Tom Ambrosino, Boxford Police Chief Michael Murphy and Revere Bad Cop Todd Randall, presently residing at Club Fed somewhere down South. Watch the above video at 5:30 in….[snip].

    http://www.lawlib.state.ma.us/source/mass/rules/sjc/sjc119.html

    Here then are the old and new SJC 1:19 rules, and here is the upshoot:
    1. The clerk was wrong because there was no such prohibition.
    2. The new rule seems to forbid the general community and news media to roll video or to take stills in the hallways. I would favor a Constitutional challenge to that and will contact the ACLU tomorrow morning. They like my stills and have published some of them relative to the bigoted, racist and failed Jason Vassell prosecution.
    3. The new rule expands the definition of journalist to include those of us who largely self-publish, or publish online. This is a Good Thing, because it gets a bit ridiculous for someone like me to have to explain my legal background or that I choose not to work for large daily press anymore. More details on the ACLU response as it happens, but for now just imagine a World without hallway video or stills…. that’s crazy. And it unduly trammels the First Amendment Right of media to obtain and to report the news, just my $.02.

  3. Christopher King, J.D.

    BTW This new hallway restriction is in a section that addresses “covert video…” but my actions — and the actions of other journos major, minor and in-between are anything but covert so that is a misnomer……

  4. Christopher King, J.D.

    My ACLU Complaint, filed today:

    You lawyers out there know I’m right. Given the rationale to me, which was people (i.e. litigants and their friends) abusing other people and hassling them, the Rule is overbroad, overinclusive and not narrowly-tailored as it trammels our First Amendment Rights to cover and to report the news.

    Peace.

  5. Pingback: Norfolk County DA, Public Defenders Target OpenCourt in Quincy, Mass. | KnowNewEngland.org

Comments are closed.