Archive for November, 2017


Indiana court recording remains concealed from public

The Indiana State Court of Appeals has ruled that a judge did not violate guidelines by state law or within the US Constitution that prohibited the broadcast of an audio recording during a sentencing hearing this past April.

WPTA, the ABC affiliated station in Fort Wayne, filed a motion to appeal with the Court after Huntington Circuit Judge Thomas Hakes cited a judicial conduct rule. Hakes confirmed the audio was an official record by the court but did not allow its broadcast, citing a potential citation of contempt of court.

The audio included an excerpt from the sentencing hearing of Dr. John Mathew, who pled guilty to two counts of felony sexual battery on an employee who worked at his clinic. A plea deal reduced charges from initial counts of rape, battery and sexual battery.
WPTA’s motion was supported by a coalition of groups, one of which was SPJ.

The court ruling, written by judge Patricia Riley, indicated concern on Judicial Rule 2.17, which prohibits the use of cameras or recording devices used by third parties.

“Permitting the audio of a proceeding to be broadcast to the public in general by way of any type of media, would have an intimidating impact, not only on the behavior of the witnesses and other actors — causing possible fear and reluctance to testify — but also on the openness and candidness of any trial testimony,” Riley wrote. “We perceive no difference between the effect of broadcasting a hearing ex post facto versus the contemporaneous dissemination of the proceeding.”

According to WPTA, Indiana’s lower courts bans outside recording devices, while the Court of

Appeals and the Indiana Supreme Court broadcast proceedings as they happen and archive them online.

In a telephone interview, Jonathan Shelley, news director of WPTA, said he was consulting attorneys as to whether to appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court.

The ruling in Indiana comes a couple of days after the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the public could not obtain or copy recordings made by those Court’s stenographers.

While that ruling, written by Justice Nels Peterson, does not bar court reporters from sharing recordings of court proceedings with members of the media, it gives court officials the right to turn down requests at any time, according to a report from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Shelley said he was not surprised by the ruling in Georgia, saying that they are working with different judges with different approaches to working with the media. Shelley adds that in Indiana there have also been differences in interpreting the release of audio of 911 calls, as city and county agencies differ on policies.

“We see varying interpretations,” Shelley said. “Some are stonewalling, some are declining, others are cooperating.”

In this case, Shelley said he was surprised that a record of the court was being subjected to a ban, as it was not a third party recording.

Shelley said that the need for transparency with the public was important. He encourages people to broaden their horizons, saying that you may not have an interest now, but you may be in a position where you have an interest in an event later.

“Something is best understood when it’s impacting someone directly,” Shelley said.
Shelley encourages journalists and news organizations also to know the laws in their area, so they can know what their up against. But Shelley encourages persistence, and says it’s possible no two circumstances can be alike.

“It allows judges and local agencies to interpret as they choose,” Shelley said. “One may put up a road block, another one may not.”

Ultimately, it is down to the access of unfiltered information, something Shelley wants to continue to promote, no matter the circumstances, in order to inform and engage audiences on issues. “Technology is only as good as the information that is available,” Shelley said.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist in Minneapolis and a member of SPJ’s Ethics and Freedom of Information Committees. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

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