Judge changes mind, prohibits tweeting and other electronic communication in Sandusky trial

Emily Miller | Newsgathering | News | June 4, 2012

After reporters asked for clarification on a judicial order that allowed them to tweet -- with one restriction -- during the Jerry Sandusky trial, a Pennsylvania judge changed his mind Monday and banned all electronic communication in the courtroom.

A number of media outlets, including the Associated Press and ESPN, filed a motion on Friday seeking clarification of Judge John Cleland's Decorum Order dated May 30, which allowed reporters to tweet or use other electronic communications during the trial as long as they did not use direct quotes.

The media’s motion argued that restricting the use of direct quotes is unconstitutional and the use of direct quotes should not be prohibited because doing so would “risk diminishing the accuracy of reports on the trial,” according to court documents.

The motion also stated that “(t)here is no workable way for reporters to avoid using any direct quotes in their text-based reports…” and “using direct quotes in reports from the courtroom does not prejudice any interest or in any way impede the judicial process,” according to court documents.

In response to the motion, the judge amended the order to prohibit the transmission of information in and out of the courtroom. Reporters, however, are still permitted to bring electronic devices into the courtroom.

The judge said he was "compelled to rescind" the paragraph of the order granting electronic-based communications because, based on the media’s motion, he finds his interpretation of the law “confusing to reporters, unworkable, and therefore, likely unenforceable.”

Spokesman for the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, Jim Koval, said lawyers on behalf of numerous media outlets filed the motion after he told the journalists they would not be able to tweet direct quotes during the trial.

The judge's basis for the prohibition of tweeting direct quotes was his interpretation of Pennsylvania state court laws that ban broadcasting of court proceedings, according to Koval. The judge equated the tweeting of live quotes with the broadcast of live proceedings.

“They kind of put the judge in a box," Koval said. "He was doing the best he could to allow this under the Pennsylvania Supreme Court law.”

The judge said in a public memo that the May 30 Decorum Order was entered after he met in May with a committee formed by the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters and the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association "to anticipate and resolve media coverage issues that might arise during trial.”

The original order dated Dec. 6, which was drafted with help from the broadcast and newspaper associations, prohibited any form of electronic communications from the courtroom but was modified to permit it on Dec. 12. The judge said the terms of that order have governed every proceeding since the preliminary hearing.

“Permitting reports from the courtroom while the court is in session did not, in my view, constitute ‘broadcasting’ as long as the reports did not contain simultaneous verbatim quotations,” he said.

The judge also ruled on Monday that those accusing the former Penn State assistant football coach of sexual assault will not be able to use pseudonyms and must be named in open court.