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Court considers media access to courtroom

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    NMU         NEW HAMPSHIRE         Broadcasting         Jun 6, 2002    

Court considers media access to courtroom

  • State Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments on whether it should allow television, radio and photo coverage of criminal trial proceedings in response to limited media access to a Dartmouth murder case.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court recently accepted a petition from area news organizations urging the court to more clearly define a trial judge’s ability to limit the media’s use of television, radio and still photography to report on criminal proceedings.

The petition, accepted by the court on May 30, was signed by officials from WMUR/Channel 9, The Boston Globe and the New Hampshire Association of Broadcasters. Reporters expressed disappointment with the limits placed on coverage of New Hampshire v. Tulloch.

In that case, Robert Tulloch, 18, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and murder conspiracy in the stabbing deaths of Dartmouth professors of Half and Susanne Zantop and was sentenced to life in prison on April 4. James Parker, 17, also pleaded guilty to being an accomplice in the murder of Susanne Zantop.

In March, Grafton County Superior Court Judge Peter Smith said he would ban television, radio and photographic coverage of Tulloch’s trial. Smith cited New Hampshire Superior Court Rule 78 which gives a trial court judge broad discretion in providing the media with access to the courtroom.

The local media filed petitions requesting access to the courtroom and an emergency motion for access to the hearing when it became apparent that Tulloch would change his plea to guilty. The Supreme Court granted the media motion, allowing limited access to the April 4 hearing.

The state argued that the issue of access to the courtroom was moot, since Tulloch had been sentenced. However, the media contended in recent briefs that the issue of media access has widespread implications in New Hampshire. They argued that the New Hampshire Supreme Court needed to articulate a legal framework for the application of Rule 78.

The court said briefs are due at the end of the month.

(Petition of WMUR/Channel 9, The Boston Globe, and New Hampshire Association of Broadcaster’s; New Hampshire v. Tulloch; Counsel: James Bassett) JLW

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© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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