Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Chief Judge Stiffens Rules for Court Reporting; Some Media Could Be Excluded under His New Order

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Chief Judge Stiffens Rules for Court Reporting; Some Media Could Be Excluded under His New Order

Article excerpt

Byline: Andrew Pantazi

Chief Judge Mark Mahon's first administrative order offers a narrow definition of media, limits new blogs and websites from covering trials and requires all reporters apply for credentials.

If the court administrator decides some reporters are not "media," then they might not be able to use laptops or cameras in court.

The order came down in response to attempts by the website Photography is Not a Crime to film a government activist's misdemeanor trial.

Judges aren't required to let cameras or laptops into courtrooms. In 2010, an appellate court ruled a judge couldn't ban a reporter from using a laptop unless the judge found it disruptive.

"The First Amendment does not say who or what a reporter is or what is or is not news," said George Gabel, a media attorney who also represents The Florida Times-Union. "The government should not be making those decisions."

He said the news media needs to be independent and not under the control of a court administrator who could withdraw a news reporter's credentials for any reason.

The Times-Union is reviewing the order with its attorneys.

Mahon's new order creates a process of reviewing reporters for media credentials. Judges will consider non-credentialed reporters like an "other," according to the order, and the judges can decide if they will allow them to use cameras, laptops or recorders. He did not define "other" in his order.

Mahon's assistant said he was too busy Wednesday and Thursday to talk to about his order.

Court Administrator Joe Stelma said the court will require reporters to carry the credentials beginning May 11.

Others echoed Gabel's view.

"The credentialing process presents some problems," said media attorney Mark R. Caramanica of Thomas & LoCicero law firm in Tampa. "We think it infringes on the economy of the press to be flexible to decide who will be covering what."

Mahon, a former Republican state representative, took over as the Fourth Judicial Circuit's chief judge in January. The chief judge manages the courts in Duval, Clay and Nassau counties.

There are two types of media, according to the order:

- Traditional print and broadcast media that report news "that reach or influence people widely." Mahon didn't say how wide the influence must be.

- Digital media that regularly posts original news, that requires an editor to review all stories, that can prove they have regular online visitors.

Also, the digital media have to have been covering the judicial branch for at least six months in order to receive a credential that would allow them to cover the judicial branch.

Gabel said he doesn't understand how that can work. How can a new blog get credentials to cover trials if it has to prove it's already covered trials? …

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