New Mexico Judge Says First Amendment Is Subservient To The 'Dignity Of The Court'
from the lawyers:-begin-routing-your-1st-A-cases-elsewhere... dept
Many government entities do little more than tolerate the existence of the press, knowing that anything they do that appears to restrict First Amendment activities will backfire horribly. These are the smart ones. Then there are others who are too obtuse to recognize the censorious gun they think they’re pointing at others is actually resting about temple-level on their own heads.
Cue the idiotic “memorandum” issued to journalists by the Second Judicial District Court located in Albuquerque, New Mexico:
A memorandum to members of the media issued June 2 by Chief Judge Nan G. Nash and Clerk of the Court James Noel requires “at least twenty-four (24) hours advanced notice to the Clerk of the Court of their desire to report on any matter within or regarding the Court. Members of the media shall enter the Courthouse through its main entrance and through Court Security. Upon entrance, members of the media shall proceed to Court Administration to ‘sign-in’ with the Clerk of the Court and to verify that they provided twenty-four hours advanced notice to the Court.”
While court proceedings are subject to some restrictions (even more so if handling juvenile cases), there is no Constitutional limitation that supports a demand for “24 hour advanced [sic] notice,” much less “intermediate notice” or “beginner’s notice.” The state does not have a right to demand journalists “check in” ahead of time and ask for permission to cover open public court proceedings.
And the demand goes further than just court proceedings. The language says “any matter within or regarding the Court,” which could be read as covering any interaction between media members and the court. This is clearly ridiculous. The Rio Grande Chapter of Society of Professional Journalists wasted little time condemning the memo.
The public has a right to see its justice system at work. Impeding the work of journalists who report from the courts will only erode that right and, we fear, limit the community’s access to this institution.
Moreover, we do not believe the court has any authority to require our members or any other journalists to provide advance notice of reporting on “any matter regarding the court” (emphasis added). Nor do we believe the court has any authority to require reporters “sign in” with security even when carrying nothing more than what a lawyer or litigant might tote around the building.
According to the memo, some unspecified “recent violations” have somehow “detracted” from the “dignity of the Court.” Well, if it had any “dignity” remaining, it’s gone now. Especially considering this was the explanation given when Judge Nan Nash — who authored the memo — walked it back in the face of public backlash.
Chief Judge Nan Nash said late Wednesday that she was rewriting the policy.
“This is overbroad,” she admitted. “It was never intended to address reporters. It’s intended to clarify the rule about when and how film crews could be present in the courthouse.”
There are certain restrictions against recording devices already in use. Why further restrictions were “needed” isn’t immediately clear to anyone but Judge Nash. And if she only meant film crews, why did she write “members of the media?” Probably because she didn’t expect this to be challenged, or at the very least, didn’t expect a local memo to receive national media attention.
She cites in her defense a single incident in which a TV film crew “chased” down a judge who was walking down a hall while asking for an explanation of how an accused cop-killer managed to elude jail time. This may have been in violation of standing court policies (Rule 23-07 allows cameras and recording devices so long as they don’t interfere with proceedings or “undermine the dignity” of the court), but if so, it should have been handled under that rule and limited to the offending news crew, rather than with a broadly-worded memo that sought to impose unconstitutional restrictions on media members.