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Media loses bid for audio recordings in Libby trial

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NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   WASHINGTON, D.C.   ·   Secret Courts   ·   Jan. 11, 2007

NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   WASHINGTON, D.C.   ·   Secret Courts   ·   Jan. 11, 2007


Media loses bid for audio recordings in Libby trial

  • The judge overseeing the case of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby has denied news organizations’ request for access to daily audio recordings of the trial that starts next week.

Jan. 11, 2007  ·   A federal judge in the I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby case has denied news organizations’ request to have access to daily audio recordings of the upcoming trial.

Libby is accused of perjury, obstruction, and lying to the FBI about his conversations with journalists concerning CIA officer Valerie Plame. Jury selection in his trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday.

A coalition of media organizations, including The Associated Press, CNN, The Washington Post and The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, filed the request in December after the court issued an order giving interested parties the opportunity to comment on the court’s plan regarding media access during the jury selection process, known as voir dire.

In his brief to the court, media attorney Nathan Siegel pointed out that the U.S. Supreme Court and some federal appellate courts release audio recordings of oral arguments. Siegel also argued that some federal district courts make audio recordings of judicial proceedings available as a matter of course in courtrooms that use recording equipment.

U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton wrote in his decision that the court does not, and will not, make audio recordings of any proceedings in the Libby case. Walton acknowledged that the court reporter makes an audio recording in order to produce an accurate written transcript, but added, “This recording, however, is produced by the court reporter’s personal equipment and is not the official record of the proceedings. It is therefore not available to the public.”

Siegel disputed this reasoning. “There is a recording made by the court reporter,” he said. “There is no reason why that couldn’t be used in the same way that a transcript is used.”

Walton went on to write that even if an official audio recording was made, the court would not release it to the media, citing the court’s Local Criminal Rules and Judicial Conference policies.

The judge quoted Judicial Conference guidelines that say “except with respect to ceremonial proceedings and appellate proceedings . . . the Conference policy does not authorize audio or video taping in the courtroom for the purposes of subsequent public dissemination.”

Siegel said he does not agree with the judge’s interpretation of the guidelines, which he reads as prohibiting journalists from making and distributing their own recordings in the courtroom, not as prohibiting courthouses from making official recordings available to the public.

But he said that he was not surprised by the judge’s decision. To his knowledge, the federal trial courts in Washington, D.C., have not made audio recordings available in similar circumstances.

“I am not at all surprised that the judge would be unwilling to break new ground” in such a high-profile case, Siegel said. “But it is important that these requests be made, and be made respectfully, so that courts will warm up to the idea.”

In his order, the judge also ruled that only two journalists will be permitted in the courtroom during the voir dire process. However, credentialed journalists will have access to a media center where they will be able to view the proceedings live through closed circuit video and audio feeds. The public and other journalists will be able to view the proceedings live through closed circuit video and audio feeds in a second courtroom.

Walton wrote that he anticipates that the “vast majority of the jury selection process will be open to the public,” but said he will instruct jurors that they may request to answer questions at the bench if their responses touch on deeply personal matters that they have “legitimate reasons for keeping out of the public domain.”

(United States v. Libby, Media Counsel: Nathan Siegel, Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz LLP, Washington, D.C.)CS

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