The Florida Bar has proposed a new rule to eliminate coverage of court proceedings by citizen journalists. The Bar’s proposed rule prohibits anyone other than an official court reporter or an employee of a traditional media outlet, as defined by Florida Statutes § 90.5015, from using any device which can make video or audio recording from being brought into a court including laptop computers. 

Of course, the proposed rule allows the courts to continue to record you, but unfortunately, the courts usually don’t want to give up their own recordings without a fight even though they are required to do so. 

Ironically, not long ago, the Florida Supreme Court celebrated its longstanding rule upholding the First and Sixth Amendment rights to public trials by requiring courts to allow video and audio recording of court proceedings. In an article about this, the Justices noted that allowing cameras in courts had not caused a single problem. An article about this was available on the Florida Bar’s web site at this link until recently. Try the link. Maybe the Bar’s web site was down or maybe it is just blocking me. Anyway, due to the fact that the Florida Bar News is a government publication and due to the Fair Use doctrine, I have posted a copy of this article on Scribd. 

Naturally, the Bar decided to try to fool everyone, including the Justices of the Florida Supreme Court, by disguising its proposed rule as one prohibiting electronic recording by jurors. However, the Bar’s proposed rule allows judges to prohibit everyone other than employees of the traditional news media, official court reporters and court staff from recording proceedings. 

As usual, the people who control the Florida Bar didn’t bother to consider any case law before trying to create a lower class of journalists. If they had bothered to look anything up (assuming that they are actually attempting to uphold the law), they would have found that the Florida Supreme Court previously held: 

“Freedom of the press is not, and has never been a private property right granted to those who own the news media. It is a cherished and almost sacred right of each citizen to be informed about current events on a timely basis so each can exercise his discretion in determining the destiny and security of himself, other people, and the Nation. News delayed is news denied. To be useful to the public, news events must be reported when they occur. Whatever happens in any courtroom directly or indirectly affects all the public. To prevent star-chamber injustice the public should generally have unrestricted access to all proceedings.” 

State ex rel. Miami Herald Publishing Co. v. McIntosh, 340 So.2d 904, 910 (Fla. 1977). 

Amazingly, in spite of the current rule requiring judges to allow citizen journalists to cover court proceedings, many judges refuse to abide by that rule. Apparently, many judges and attorneys don’t want the public to know what is going on in the courts, and some judges will even prohibit reporters from traditional news media from covering proceedings in their courtrooms. It looks like the attorneys who run the Bar don’t want anyone to realize that some judges will give homes to banks without even hearing any defenses even though that is a criminal violation of due process. Imagine if there had been a video of this hearing available for people to see. 

The Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court recently had to remind Florida’s judges that court proceedings are supposed to be open to the public and the press. An article about the Chief Justice’s action was available on the Florida Bar’s web site at this link until recently. I have also posted a copy of this article on Scribd. 

Unfortunately, the Bar didn’t give the public much notice or time to act. If you don’t want the Florida Supreme Court to pass the Florida Bar’s new rule violating the rights of citizen journalists, by the end of the day on Feb. 1, 2011, send an email to katherine.giddings@akerman.com and jjenning@flabar.org with a subject stating, “Objection to Proposed Rule 2.451″ and with the body stating, “I oppose the provisions of proposed Fla. R. Jud. Admin 2.451 which limit the rights of citizen journalists to record court proceedings.” 

© Mark A. Adams JD/MBA 

Notice: You may copy and post this article on other web sites if you include a link to the original article. 

Article updated on Feb. 14, 2011 to correct typographical errors and include a link to Florida Statutes § 90.5015 defining a “professional journalist.” Note that the definition excludes everyone except those “working as a salaried employee of, or independent contractor for, a newspaper, news journal, news agency, press association, wire service, radio or television station, network, or news magazine.”