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Stroud v. Butler, et al.

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  1. Court Access

Amicus brief filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association

Court: U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania

Date Filed: Jan. 15, 2020

Update: On Feb. 26, the district court denied the defendants’ motions to dismiss but reserved judgment on the merits of the First Amendment claim until motions for summary judgment could be filed.

Background: In October 2019, Pittsburgh-based journalist Matt Stroud and the newsmagazine Postindustrial filed a federal lawsuit against the sheriff of Allegheny County and district judges from Pennsylvania’s Fifth Judicial District challenging the constitutionality of court rules that prohibit audio recording in bail hearings and other proceedings where official recordings and transcripts are unavailable.

The plaintiffs, represented by Georgetown Law’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, argue that the ban on recording stifles their ability to report on the bail process in Pittsburgh and infringes on their rights to engage in activity protected under the First Amendment. In response to the complaint, the defendants filed two motions to dismiss, contending that the right to record courtroom proceedings is not guaranteed by the First Amendment.

Our Position: The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania should deny the defendants’ motions to dismiss the complaint.

  • The challenged court rules burden journalists’ ability to report fully, accurately and in detail about what transpires during bail hearings and other proceedings where no transcript or official audio recording is produced.
  • The challenged court rules restrict the news media’s ability to fulfill its constitutionally recognized role as a surrogate for the public by reporting on court proceedings that members of the public are interested in but cannot attend.

Quote: “The challenged portions of the court rules at issue here burden journalists’ ability to report thoroughly and accurately on bail hearings and restrict their ability to keep the public informed about what transpires in courtrooms.”

Related: In August 2018, the Reporters Committee and 35 media organizations filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging a California appeals court to release video recordings of trial proceedings on the grounds that the press and public have a right to access them under the First Amendment.

The Reporters Committee maintains an “Open Courts Compendium,” which includes information on court access laws for each state and federal circuit.

Brief co-signers: Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association