A Florida appeals court on Wednesday refused the Tampa Tribune‘s request for an audio recording of a sentencing hearing. Although the court in question relied on digital equipment rather than a human court reporter to document the proceedings, the appellate panel found, only the written transcript is subject to public release.
The newspaper had argued that under Florida’s Rules of Judicial Administration, the audio recording made by the court’s "digital electronic court reporting system" created electronic records of the January 2008 sentencing hearing that should be considered public. But the appeals court found that a digital system picks up all types of ambient sounds and conversations "before, during and after the hearing." Those elements go beyond the official record of a court proceeding, which is "comprised only of matters that are part of the proceedings, i.e., the official business of the court.," the opinion says.
The records custodian can choose the form in which to release that official record, the court continued. In the Tribune‘s case, the chief judge in the circuit opted to furnish it "in the form of a written transcript, something he has the right to do," the court found.
The Tribune quoted its attorney, Gregg Thomas of Thomas, LoCicero & Bralow in Tampa, saying the newspaper would appeal the decision: "I think the court missed a seminal issue in the case and that is that we have a constitutional right of access to recordings of court proceedings."