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New rules would restrict media in and around courthouse

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New rules would restrict media in and around courthouse 12/01/97 CALIFORNIA--The California Judicial Council is considering whether to approve proposed…

New rules would restrict media in and around courthouse

12/01/97

CALIFORNIA–The California Judicial Council is considering whether to approve proposed rules that would restrict news coverage in Los Angeles Superior Court facilities.

The rules, which were drafted by the Superior Court’s Media Committee, would ban media coverage “in any part of the county courthouse, including, but not limited to, entrances, exits, halls, stairs, escalators, elevators and courtrooms.” The courthouse’s pressroom and other areas designated by the presiding judge would not be affected by the new rules, which were sent to the state Judicial Council in mid-November for approval.

The orders would also force photographers and film crews to keep their cameras and other equipment turned off at all times inside courthouses, unless they are in pressrooms or have special permission from judges to use the equipment.

A Los Angeles Times editorial said the rules stem from “the circus atmosphere that prevailed during O.J. Simpson’s criminal and civil trials.”

A coalition of media organizations, including the Times, NBC News, The Associated Press and the California Newspaper Publishers Association, has already successfully challenged one of the rules, which would have required reporters to wear their press passes at all times inside courthouses.

In a protest letter to the Superior Court, attorney Kelli Sager, who represents the coalition, called the press pass requirement discrimination that “is not only inappropriate, but cannot withstand constitution scrutiny.” Sager wrote that ordinary citizens are not required to show press passes, and thus reporters should be under no similar obligation.

A Times editorial also criticized the press pass requirement, charging that “rules like these would have the effect of making pariahs out of reporters, branding them, in effect, with a scarlet press pass and making people nervous about talking with them.”

Jerrianne Hayslett, the Los Angeles Superior Court public relations officer, said the protests convinced the Media Committee to drop press pass requirement from the proposal.

Sager also challenged the order barring coverage inside the courthouse. She said the rule, as written, would not even allow a reporter to tape an interview with the district attorney in his courthouse office.

Times columnist Bill Boyarsky questioned the orders’ aim. “These proposed rules, in fact, go further than trying to assure decorum in the courthouse,” he wrote. “They use the Simpson trial as an excuse to shield judges and the judicial process from scrutiny by the media and the public.”

If accepted, the rules will take effect January 1. (Proposed Local Rule 4.1)