Monday, July 6, 2009

Judge bans cameras in courthouse hallways

There's no question that a judge can ban cameras in a courtroom, but what about most of the hallways in a courthouse building? That's what's happened at the San Mateo County Courthouse in Redwood City. And not for one case, but permanently. Here's the story The Daily Post printed this morning (that paper doesn't post its stories online, so here it is).
    BY JOSH WOLF
    Daily Post Staff Writer

    A judge has banned cameras from the halls of the San Mateo County Courthouse in Redwood City even though a First Amendment expert said the new rule may violate the U.S. Constitution.

    Acting Presiding Judge Robert D. Foiles issued the order after news outlets asked to videotape and photograph the trial of William Ayres, the 77-year-old prominent San Mateo psychiatrist charged with molesting his young patients in the 1970s.

    But neither Ayres’ defense attorney nor the district attorney asked to ban cameras from the hallways, said Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

    Wagstaffe said he did not know why the judge issued the ban.

    Wagstaffe said that the first version of the ban on June 23 only included the second floor, where Ayres is on trial. Later that day Foiles issued a second order expanding the ban to all floors of the eight-story courthouse at Marshall and Winslow streets.

    Why the judge expanded the order, banning photographers where they had traditionally been allowed, wasn’t known. Judge Foiles did not return phone calls from the Post.

    Hallways different than court

    Retired KGO-TV photographer Al Bullock said he has never been told he couldn’t film inside a court hallway during his 32-year career.

    “They cannot tell you that you can’t take a camera here, there or otherwise, but I think a courtroom is excluded,” said Bullock. “I don’t know why they want to be secretive about some of the stuff they’re doing, but they just don’t want coverage.”

    But while there’s no question judges can ban photography in their courtrooms, barring them from the hallways may not be constitutional, said Terry Franke, the General Counsel for CalAware, a nonprofit group focused on open government laws.

    “Courts may have the authority to ban media hardware in their own access corridors. I’m skeptical but it’s never been litigated,” said Franke. “But I don’t think they have any authority to keep journalists from taking their tools to non-judicial offices.”

    Protecting victims

    AP Photographer Paul Sakuma told the Post that he’s seen similar restrictions placed in other courtrooms, and said he suspected the order was established to protect the privacy of Ayres’ alleged victims, most of whom are now adults.

    “They want to control the photographs ... (and) protect the people who are involved in cases,” he said.

    During the Scott Peterson trial, photographers were prohibited from shooting in some parts of the building, but there were areas cordoned off where people were allowed to photograph, said Sakuma.
(Photo credit: Josh Wolf, Daily Post)

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The order, in effect, forbids photographic coverage of Board of Supervisors meetings since the their chambers are in the same building on the first floor.

In effect no photos of proclamations, awards or other presentations will be allowed.

We'll see how long that lasts.

Josh Wolf said...

Actually the order only pertains to the floors where there are actual courtrooms.

There are no courtrooms on the first floor and the court order mentions each floor by number, excluding the first.