C. Tips for covering courts in the jurisdiction
The federal courts of appeals are the intermediate appellate courts between the district (trial) courts and the Supreme Court of the United States. The Tenth Circuit, and the other numbered circuits, provide appellate review of all cases tried in the district courts within the geographic area of their jurisdiction. The Tenth Circuit is made up of six states including Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. It also includes “those portions of the Yellowstone National Park extending into Montana and Idaho.” 2019 Practitioner’s Guide to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, available at https://www.ca10.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/clerk/2019PracGuideUpdateCorrected-3-12-2019.pdf.
“To order necessary transcripts in the Tenth Circuit, parties must complete a Transcript Order Form approved by this court and distributed by the district clerk; must serve copies on the court reporter, the district clerk, and all other parties to the appeal, and file a copy in the court of appeals. The ordering party must make satisfactory arrangements with the court reporter for payment of the cost of the transcript. On completion of the transcript order, the court reporter must acknowledge its receipt, estimate the completion date and the number of pages in the completed transcript, and file a completed copy with this court and with the district clerk. 10th Cir. R. 10.2(B)(2).” 2019 Practitioner’s Guide to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, available at https://www.ca10.uscourts.gov/sites/default/files/clerk/2019PracGuideUpdateCorrected-3-12-2019.pdf.
History: The United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit was established by Congress in 1981, partitioned off from the former Fifth Circuit. Consequently, all decisions rendered by the Fifth Circuit prior to the close of the business day on September 30, 1981, are binding precedent unless overruled en banc by the Eleventh Circuit. Bonner v. City of Pritchard, 661 F.2d 1206 (11th Cir. 1981) (en banc). The Eleventh Circuit has jurisdiction over federal cases originating in the states of Alabama, Florida, and Georgia. The Circuit includes nine district courts with each state divided into Northern, Middle, and Southern Districts. About the Court, United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (July 22, 2019), http://www.ca11.uscourts.gov/about-court.
Contact Information: The Court has locations in the following cities:
56 Forsyth Street, N.W.
Atlanta, Georgia 30303
Phone: (404) 335-6100
99 N.E. 4th Street
Miami, Florida 33132
Phone: (305) 579-4430
300 N. Hogan St.
Jacksonville, Florida 32202
Phone: (904) 301-5665 (unattended)
15 Lee Street, 3rd Floor Courtroom
Montgomery, Alabama 36104
Phone: (334) 954-3790
Interested individuals and media representatives can register with the court to receive notices in cases of interest in the Eleventh Circuit. For more information, click here.
The District Rules for each of the district courts in the Eleventh Circuit can be found here.
Websites for each District Court
The Middle District of Florida has a webpage devoted to information for the media.
The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit hears appeals from the United States District Courts for the Districts of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Puerto Rico and Rhode Island. It hears argument in Boston, MA and San Juan, PR. The court currently has ten judges, four of whom have assumed senior status. Court contact information is available at https://www.ca1.uscourts.gov/clerks-office.
The First Circuit posts information for the public and the media on its website at: https://www.ca1.uscourts.gov/information-public-and-media.
In general, the First Circuit’s calendar consists of:
In January through June, and October through December, the Court usually sits for one week starting on the first Monday of the month. In July, the Court usually sits the last full week of the month. In September, the Court starts on the Wednesday after Labor Day and sits for the 3 days in that week and the 5 days in the following week. In November and March, the Court usually sits the week starting on the first Monday of the month, simultaneously in Boston and in Puerto Rico. Court sittings are held in the morning, typically between 9:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. The calendar is subject to change without notice.
https://www.ca1.uscourts.gov/calendar-information. The court provides online access to recent audio recordings and makes prior recordings available for purchase. Id.
The court provides online access to opinions and audio recordings of oral arguments at https://www.ca1.uscourts.gov/opinions-oral-arguments.
Anyone in need of regular access to information about a case should register for an account through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER), a public access system that allows registered users to obtain case and docket information over the internet. A PACER account is required to view documents. PACER accounts are not court specific. An account will provide nationwide access to all United States appellate, district, and bankruptcy courts.
To obtain a transcript of a proceeding, the court provides access to contact information, forms, and instructions on its website at: https://www.ca1.uscourts.gov/transcript-forms-notices.
Information on the Circuit Library and access to federal legal materials is available at: https://www.ca1.uscourts.gov/circuit-library.
The First Circuit does not publish standards governing the appearance or behavior of persons appearing in court, but when visiting the courthouse:
Show a photo ID issued by a government agency, such as a driver’s license or a bar identification card.
Place your purse, briefcase, backpack, and other personal items on an x-ray machine to be screened.
Remove keys, coins, wallets, and all other items in your pockets before walking through a magnetometer.
You may be asked to remove your belt, watch, jewelry, and shoes.
The general public is prohibited from bringing electronic devices into the building. These may be checked at the security screening station in the lobby.
Anyone appearing in court or interacting with court personnel should adhere to standards of conduct that are generally required where matters of importance and serious concern are transacted. In the courtroom, the public should avoid distracting sounds or movements and wear appropriate and neat attire consistent with participation in matters of serious concern.
Structure of the court system
The following district courts lie within the Third Circuit Court of Appeals’ jurisdiction:
United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania
United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania
United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania
United States District Court for the District of Delaware
United States District Court for the District of New Jersey
Federal court records are available through the web-based Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system at a charge of $.10 per page.
The Fourth Circuit is not afraid to decide the merits of a dispute over public access, but it will only do so after the district court has thoroughly considered the matter consistent with the procedural and substantive requirements identified in the case law. If the district court has failed in either regard, the Fourth Circuit will usually remand the case for further consideration. It is important, therefore, that a party seeking access consider proactive steps that might help ensure that the district court adheres in the first instance to the substantive and procedural requirements.
Addressing access issues proactively also increases the likelihood of successfully obtaining access. Judges appreciate being advised of access rights before making a decision on what they might otherwise perceive as a routine or noncontroversial request for closure. Moreover, as a practical matter, convincing a judge not to do something is much easier than convincing the judge to undo something he/she has already done.
A party seeking to attend the trial of a high profile matter and to access trial exhibits should contact the district court in advance to determine if any procedures have been adopted to facilitate public access, such as providing an extra room in the courthouse for overflow attendees to view the trial by closed-circuit video, and for timely release of trial exhibits. A letter to the district court, copying counsel of record, should suffice for this initial inquiry. The inquiry will often prompt the court to adopt procedures. District courts have discretion over the extent to which they must accommodate public access at trial.
The right of access is qualified, not absolute. Therefore, third-parties are well-advised not to adopt a demanding or overbearing approach to access, but to request it in a civil and professional manner that avoids undue disruption and interference with the underlying proceeding. Most federal district court judges in the Fourth Circuit understand and appreciate the value of public access. However, no judge appreciates discourteous and disruptive behavior by third-party intervenors, and such behavior will foreclose the potential for accommodations not required to protect the public’s right of access.
Conferring with the litigants before intervening is vital, as it may reveal a meritorious basis for closure not apparent from the record. Additionally, to the extent an agreement can be reached, it will bolster arguments for access.
Each district court within the Fifth Circuit has court-specific rules. For example, the Northern District of Texas Civil Rule 83.18 specifies that no person “may photograph, electronically record, televise, or broadcast a judicial proceeding.” Below are links to each of the district court’s local rules that contain court-specific guidelines:
If the local rules do not address your concern, calling the chambers of a specific judge is often an easy way to get a question answered. Links to the main court pages or directories are below for easy navigation.
Louisiana Eastern http://www.laed.uscourts.gov/court-information/court-directory Middle http://www.lamd.uscourts.gov/court-info/court-locations Western http://www.lawd.uscourts.gov/ Mississippi Northern http://www.msnd.uscourts.gov/court-info/court-locations Southern http://www.mssd.uscourts.gov/ Texas Eastern http://www.txed.uscourts.gov/?q=court-info Northern http://www.txnd.uscourts.gov/court-info Southern https://www.txs.uscourts.gov/page/district-magistrate-judges-procedures-schedules Western https://www.txwd.uscourts.gov/
Ordering Transcripts: The chart below links to each court’s instructions on how to order transcripts.
A general overview of federal courts for journalists may be found here on the United States Courts’ website: https://www.uscourts.gov/statistics-reports/publications/journalists-guide-federal-courts
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit is based in Chicago and covers Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. The Courthouse is located in the Dirksen Federal Building, 219 S. Dearborn St., Chicago, Illinois 60604. The Clerk’s telephone number is 312-435-5850.
The Seventh Circuit’s website is located at http://www.ca7.uscourts.gov. A Practitioner’s Handbook for Appeals is available on the Court’s website, along with the Circuit’s Rules, Operating Procedures and other useful information.
The district courts in the Circuit each maintain a website, containing the current version of the Local Rules referenced above and relevant contact information. The Northern District of Illinois website includes a Media Information page, https://www.ilnd.uscourts.gov/Pages.aspx?jQpmSBHf3aiDZ+nRR7HF4Q, that contains contact information for court personnel; “professional media representatives” (i.e., those “employed by a recognized network, cable, or independent news organization”) can register online to get e-mail notifications when an entry is made in the Court's Electronic Case Filing System, and other media alerts and court announcements. See also N.D. Ill. General Order 07-003 (Registration of Media Personnel Desiring Privileges and Accommodations in Any Courthouse of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois), https://www.ilnd.uscourts.gov/_assets/_documents/_forms/_media/GenOrder07-003.pdf.
Structure of the court system
District Courts, Probate Courts and Municipal Courts are courts of “limited jurisdiction.” Appeals from courts of limited jurisdiction go to Circuit Court for trial de novo. District Courts have jurisdiction over misdemeanors and Small Claims, concurrent jurisdiction with Circuit Courts in juvenile cases and civil matters between $6,000 and $20,000. District Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over all civil matters not exceeding $6,000. Probate Courts have jurisdiction over wills, administration of estates, guardianship of minors and incompetents, partition of lands and name changes. Municipal Courts jurisdiction over violations of municipal ordinances where Municipal Court is maintained (otherwise these cases are tried in District Court).
Circuit Courts are general jurisdiction trial courts in Alabama. Circuit Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over all felonies, all civil actions exceeding $20,000, and all domestic relations cases. Circuit Courts have concurrent jurisdiction with District Court juvenile cases and all civil matters between $6,000 and $20,000.
The Court of Civil Appeals has appellate jurisdiction over all civil appeals not exceeding $50,000, workers’ compensation, domestic relations, and certain civil appeals deflected from the Supreme Court of Alabama. The Court of Civil Appeals also has jurisdiction over all appeals from administrative agencies (excluding the Public Service Commission).
The Court of Criminal Appeals has appellate jurisdiction over all criminal appeals, post-conviction writs and remedial writs for Criminal trial courts.
The Supreme Court of Alabama is the highest state court and has appellate jurisdiction over all civil appeals exceeding $50,000, appeals from the Alabama Public Service Commission, and petitions for writ of certiorari from the Courts of Civil and Criminal Appeals.
Contact information for all courts in Alabama is provided by the Alabama Administrative Office of Courts at http://www.alacourt.gov/
Transcripts may be obtained from the court reporter covering the proceedings. Costs are generally determined on a per page basis and are generally consistent with the fees charges for deposition transcripts.
Tips on decorum
While in the courtroom, cellphones and other electronic devices are generally required to be turned off or placed on “silent” so as not to disturb the proceedings. These rules often vary by circuit and by judge.
Open Alabama can be found online at http://open.alabama.gov.
An excellent source of information about the Alaska Court System is its website, found at http://www.courts.alaska.gov/. Docket sheets and related case information (but not individual pleadings) for state court cases can be searched online on the Alaska CourtView website: https://courts.alaska.gov/main/search-cases.htm, also accessible from the Court System’s home page. Similar information for federal cases, but including access to actual pleadings and orders filed in each case, can be obtained using the federal government’s PACER system. The Alaska Court System’s home page also provides links to Court calendars, a Media link to a variety of Media and Community Resources including relevant court rules, administrative bulletins, applications for camera coverage of court proceedings, names and phone numbers of media liaisons, and much more. A court system directory is provided at https://courts.alaska.gov/courtdir/index.htm.
Superior courts are the trial courts of general jurisdiction, with original jurisdiction in all criminal and civil matters. Their jurisdiction extends over the whole state. AS 22.10.020(a)(b). Rules of Court specify venue requirements, but changes of venue may be obtained for specified reasons. AS 22.10.030–.040. The state district courts have extensive jurisdiction, limited primarily by the amount in controversy, and now have jurisdiction over actions for libel, slander, and malicious prosecution, but not over actions of an equitable nature unless expressly authorized. AS 22.15.050. The small claims court is part of the district court, and the court system is developing several “therapeutic courts” such as the Wellness Court and Veteran’s Court. The Alaska Court of Appeals has jurisdiction over criminal matters only. AS 22.07.020. There is a right of appeal to the Supreme Court in all civil cases commenced in the superior court, AS 22.05.010. A petition for interlocutory review, however, will be granted only in four specific circumstances. Alaska R. App. Pro. 402(b). The Supreme Court has recognized that compelling reasons exist for accepting review in cases posing the danger of immediate encroachment on First Amendment rights. Hanby v. State, 479 P.2d 486 (Alaska 1970). Extraordinary legal remedies to protect First Amendment rights are frequently employed and are constitutionally mandated. Id. at 490.
Instead of following the American Rule with respect to attorney fees, Alaska is the only state with a general “loser pays” rule, providing for a presumptive award of partial attorney’s fees to the prevailing party in civil litigation, absent independent statutory authorization for fee awards. See Alaska R. Civ. Pro. 82; Alaska R. App. Pro. 508. A longstanding judicially created exception to Alaska’s prevailing party attorney fee rule that allowed public interest litigants to recover full fees if successful, and pay no fees if not, was abrogated by the Alaska Legislature in 2003. The Alaska Supreme Court upheld this law, holding that the public interest litigant exception was a common law gloss created by the courts interpreting Rule 82, not part of the rule itself. However, it also said that trial courts remain free to reduce awards that would otherwise be so onerous to the losing party as to deter similarly situated litigants from accessing courts, including those who would have previously been identified as public interest litigants, using factors specified in the rule that continue to apply to all cases without discriminating between those brought for self-interested reasons and those intended to effectuate public policies. State v. Native Village of Nunapitchuk, 156 P.3d 389 (Alaska 2007). Between the loser pays prevailing party fee rule and elimination of the public interest exception, Alaska has become the only state that would presumptively impose fees and costs on public interest litigants who unsuccessfully pursue non-frivolous claims. The public interest litigant exception survives in the current statute in a provision limited to fees incurred in dealing with constitutional issues, but in most access litigation, for example, the right of the press and public access to meetings and records is statutory, not constitutional. However, as a practical matter, the question of recovering or being assessed fees in cases involving access to judicial proceedings and records has rarely arisen, probably because these issues usually come up through intervention in an existing case and the matter of fees is typically not raised by any party, and because the issues often arise in criminal cases where fee awards are virtually never made.
A number of decisions that deal with issues in this outline are unpublished, but are cited because they may prove useful, anecdotally or for what persuasive value they may have. See Alaska Supreme Court Order No. 1654 (April 15, 2008) (amending Alaska R. App. Pro. 214(d) and providing that “[i]f a party believes . . . that an unpublished decision has persuasive value in relation to an issue in the case, and that there is no published opinion that would serve as well, the party may cite the unpublished opinion”); cf. McCoy v. State, 80 P.3d 757, 759 (Alaska Ct.App. 2002) (noting the appropriate use of unpublished opinions as persuasive precedent in addition to "such purposes as collateral estoppel, res judicator, or law of the case.").
If requesting camera coverage, one of the most essential procedural issues is to submit the request in a timely fashion. A court may deny the request on this basis alone, and a media organization should ensure that any camera request is submitted within the timeframes mandated by the rules (e.g., “at least seven calendar dates before the trial date,” Ariz. R. Sup. Ct. 122 (c)(2)(A)).
Camera crews and other media representatives present in the court should wear professional attire at all times. Respect for the proceedings and general decorum are taken seriously.
Obtaining Access to Information Excluded from Public Access
Even if information or records are excluded from public access, individuals and the press may be able to access them. Any requestor can make a verified written request to the court that has jurisdiction over the record. The request must show that: (1) reasonable circumstances exist that require deviation from the general protections in Administrative Order No. 19; (2) the public interest in disclosure outweighs the harm in disclosure; or (3) the information should not be excluded from public access under Section VII of Administrative Order No. 19.
The person seeking access to the record must notify the parties or provide the court with the reason why notice could not or should not be given. The court must grant a request to allow access following a hearing on the request, if the requestor demonstrates by a preponderance of the evidence one of the three requirements above. Ark. Sup. Ct. Admin. Order No. 19(VIII)(A).
The Arkansas Judiciary site contains a judicial directory, which includes names and telephone numbers for state courts: https://www.arcourts.gov/sites/default/files/Judicial Directory.pdf
Information about local and appellate courts can be found at: https://portal.arkansas.gov/agencies/?agency_category=Judicial
The California state court system is a familiar three-level system. The Superior Courts have general jurisdiction over most criminal and civil actions, and they are organized by county. In certain counties, specific types of cases may be heard by specialized trial court divisions, including those that deal with probate, juvenile, or family matters. The California Courts of Appeal are the intermediate appellate courts that hear appeals directly from the Superior Court; there are six districts of the Court of Appeal, and several divisions within the First, Second and Fourth District. The Supreme Court of California is the court of last resort in California. It has a limited docket that consists mostly of cases it has chosen to accept for decision. All death penalty cases are automatically appealed directly to the California Supreme Court.
The website www.courts.ca.gov includes a listing of all courts, through the links along the left side of the page. The “California Judicial Branch Fact Sheet” is available at http://www.courts.ca.gov/documents/California_Judicial_Branch.pdf.
The courts in Los Angeles County have seen many high-profile cases, but a high-profile trial or proceeding can occur anywhere. If there is significant media interest in a particular case, it may be helpful to:
- Develop a Media Plan that will establish reasonable and adequate guidelines for newsgathering and dissemination;
- Cooperate internally with other media organizations and with the government or other parties in distributing information;
- Lessen the burden on overworked courthouse staff as much as possible by cooperating on pooling arrangements and list-serves;
- Be flexible about seating arrangements, including helping to arrange for an annex or overflow room if there are not enough seats in the courtroom;
- Respectfully but firmly assert the press’s right of access to proceedings and documents as necessary.
More specific guidance can be found in Rochelle L. Wilcox, When the Media Come to Town: Protocols and Practices, MLRC Bulletin, Jan. 2005, at 143. In addition, the MLRC Newsgathering Committee, Defense Counsel Section, published a Model Media Decorum Order for High Profile Cases & Supporting Memorandum in January 2011. See http://www.medialaw.org/model-briefs-a-practice-guides.
The Colorado Judicial Branch website has a page dedicated to the media (https://www.courts.state.co.us/Media/Index.cfm). The page contains contact information for the court’s public information officer, educational resources, including a primer on Colorado courts (pdf), and links to the courts’ rules regarding photography and audio and video recordings in the courtroom (pdf). The website also has information about accessing court records, press releases, media alerts, recent orders and opinions of interest, and judge appointments.
The Colorado court system’s policy for “expanded media coverage,” which means any photography (including video) or audio recordings of proceedings, is set forth in Rule 3, Chapter 38 of the Colorado Supreme Court Rules (pdf). The rule describes the procedural requirements for requesting expanded media coverage access, including a standard request form, sets forth standards for a judge to authorize expanded coverage, and also describes restrictions on expanded media coverage.
Rule 3 also prohibits expanded media coverage of (1) pretrial hearings in criminal cases, except advisements and arraignments, (2) jury voir dire, (3) audio recording or close-up photography of bench conferences or communications between counsel and client, or co-counsel, (4) in camera hearings, or (5) close-up photography of jurors.
In reviewing a request for expanded media coverage, a judge must consider (1) whether there is a reasonable likelihood that the expanded media coverage would interfere with the rights of the parties to a fair trial, (2) whether there is a reasonable likelihood that expanded media coverage would “unduly detract from the solemnity, decorum and dignity of the court,” and (3) whether expended media coverage would “create adverse effects which would be greater than those caused by traditional media coverage.” Rule 3(a)(2).
The standard request form requires the member of the media seeking access to agree to comply with the court’s orders and all criteria set forth in Rule 3, which includes a statement that the media “may not appeal, or seek review by original proceeding, the granting or denial of expanded media coverage.” Rule 3(a)(6)(D).
The expanded media coverage policy does not address live blogging or the use of social media from court rooms. Whether those activities will be permitted depends on the individual policies of each judicial district (see, e.g., Order 11-01 Regarding the Use of Portable Electronic Devices in the Courts of the Fifth Judicial District) and, sometimes notwithstanding district-wide policies, each individual judge. Members of the media with questions about using electronic devices in court are encouraged to contact the public information officer for the Colorado Judicial Branch (rather than the individual presiding judge) in advance of any court proceeding.
The Colorado Supreme Court and Court of Appeals live stream their sessions. Reporters who want to live-blog or tweet about a Supreme Court argument shouldn’t be surprised if the Supreme Court justices request that the report do so off-site, based on the live stream.
For high-profile cases, courts will fashion rules to handle a large influx of media. For the trial of the Aurora movie theater shooter in 2015, for example, the trial was live-streamed with a fixed camera, but reporters were not permitted to live blog or tweet from the courtroom.
The Colorado Judicial Branch’s public information officer is the gatekeeper for judges throughout the state, and reporters who have individual requests are encouraged to start with the public information officer.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit (“D.C. Circuit”) hears appeals from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The D.C. Circuit is not to be confused with the D.C. Court of Appeals, which is the highest court of the District of Columbia.
U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
E. Barrett Prettyman
United States Courthouse
333 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia
333 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20001
Court reporters in the district court make verbatim records of most court proceedings, transcripts of which are provided upon request. The fees for transcription vary based upon format and delivery time requested. Questions relating to transcripts can be directed to the Office of the Court Reporters at 202-354-3044.
All arguments before the D.C. Circuit are tape-recorded for future reference of the Court. Audio recordings of oral arguments are available on the Court’s website free of charge, usually by 2:00 p.m. on the same day of the oral argument. Any person may request that a transcript of the oral argument be made. See D.C. Circuit Handbook of Practice and Internal Procedures. Copies of oral argument tapes may be purchased upon written request after the case has been completely closed, meaning after all appeals, remands, or additional proceedings. However, tapes are only retained by the Court for two years after the case has been closed.
In certain cases, the district court will make the First Floor Media Room available as a remote location for video and audio transmission of proceedings from specified courtrooms. See, e.g., United States v. Libby, 35 Media L. Rep. 1235 (D.D.C. 2007) (ordering closed-circuit viewing of Scooter Libby obstruction of justice and perjury trial). However, video and audio recording or transmission of court proceedings are strictly prohibited from the First Floor Media Center. Any violation of this prohibition may result in the banning of all laptops from the remote facility or the closing of the facility and the imposition of contempt sanctions against the violator individually and, if attending in the capacity of an employee or agent, against the employer or principal.
The district court allows members of the media to apply for free electronic notification of court filings made on PACER; however, they must still pay the per-page access charge to view the documents. For more information on how to access court records, see the Media User Guide: Access to Electronic Court Records on the court’s website.
Cell phones, computers, tablets, smart watches, and all other electronic and telecommunications equipment are permitted in the courthouse but must be turned off or put on airplane mode while inside any courtroom. Visitors may use electronic devices in public areas of the courthouse; however, at no point shall anyone be permitted to take photographs or video anywhere in the courthouse, including in public areas.
In addition, all liquids, aerosols, and gels in excess of 3.4 ounces (100 ml) are prohibited from being brought into the Courthouse complex. Visitors (including attorneys and credentialed media) are limited to up to three separate containers (3.4 ounces each) per person.
D.C. District Court website: http://www.dcd.uscourts.gov/
D.C. Circuit website: http://www.cadc.uscourts.gov
District of Columbia
The local D.C. court system is the equivalent of a state court system and is comprised of a trial court called the Superior Court, and an appellate court called the D.C. Court of Appeals. The Superior Court has five divisions—Civil, Criminal, Family Court, Probate, and Tax—along with a domestic violence unit. The Court of Appeals sits in three-judge panels, and audio of the cases they hear can be streamed real-time through the official website: https://www.dccourts.gov/court-of-appeals/oral-arguments. For a useful guide on covering the D.C. courts, which includes contact information for the courts and additional press-related information, see Journalists’ Handbook to the Courts in the District of Columbia, Council for Court Excellence, https://www.dccourts.gov/sites/default/files/pdf-forms/JournalistsHandbook.pdf.
Information on permissible conduct within the local D.C. courts, including decorum, dress code, and prohibited items can be found here: https://www.dccourts.gov/contact-us.
Information on permissible conduct within the federal D.C. courts, including decorum, prohibited items, and press access, can be found here: http://www.cadc.uscourts.gov/internet/home.nsf/Content/VL+-+Rules+Policies+Procedures+-+Media Information+-+Media+Policy.
Information on ordering court transcripts within the local D.C. court system can be found here: https://www.dccourts.gov/about/learn-more/court-reporting-and-recording-division.
Information on ordering court transcripts within the federal court system in D.C. can be found here: https://www.dcd.uscourts.gov/content/request-transcript.
Requests for court records are not required to be in writing. Obtaining paper court records from court clerks can be very expensive. By statute, clerks are permitted to charge $1.00 per page. Ask for a copy to be emailed to you. The Florida Supreme Court Administrative Order AOSC 07-49 (In re: Revised Interim Policy on Electronic Release of Court Records) was addressed in 2015 to reflect extensions and procedures regarding certain county pilot programs related to electronic records. See AOSC 15-30.
All Administrative Orders can be viewed at http://www.floridasupremecourt.org/clerk/adminorders/index.shtml. Administrative Orders are open to the public and are also posted on each court’s website.
Administrative orders and customary practices often vary by circuit. Information on each of the courts in Florida can be found at www.flcourts.org.
Contact the respective court’s administrator’s office and the relevant judicial assistant prior to setting up cameras. Some circuits employ media specialists.
When present in person, journalists should rise and orally object in open court to the closure of proceedings and request that the court recess briefly to enable the journalist to contact counsel. Otherwise, counsel should be contacted immediately when the media becomes aware of a closure so that the court may be made aware of the objection on an expedited basis. If the circumstances permit, a written response to any closure motion and/or a motion to intervene may be filed. Some courts will permit oral arguments only.
Florida’s court system is divided primarily into four levels: county courts, circuit courts, district courts of appeal and the Florida Supreme Court.
County courts are trial courts of limited jurisdiction. County courts have general jurisdiction over actions at law in which the amount at issue does not exceed $15,000. County courts also have jurisdiction over small claims, criminal traffic cases, misdemeanor cases, cases involving violations of county and municipal ordinances, limited types of dissolution cases, and most landlord and tenant actions.
Circuit courts are Florida’s trial courts of general jurisdiction. Circuit courts have exclusive original jurisdiction over cases in which the amount at issue exceeds $15,000, not including interest and costs. The circuit courts also have jurisdiction over probate matters, domestic relations cases, juvenile matters, criminal felony cases, competency cases, and all cases in equity. Circuit courts also act as appellate courts for county courts.
The five District Courts of Appeal have jurisdiction to hear appeals that may be taken as a matter of right from final judgments or orders of trial courts which are not directly appealable to the Florida Supreme Court or a circuit court.
The Florida Supreme Court must consider appeals from trial court final judgments imposing the death penalty and orders in bond validation proceedings. The Florida Supreme Court must also hear district court decisions which declare a state statute or provision of Florida’s Constitution invalid, as well as rulings by public service commissions regarding electric, gas, or telephone rates or service. The Florida Supreme Court may also review decisions of district courts in a variety of circumstances including questions certified by the district court as a question of great public importance, among other things.
Contact the respective clerk’s office for the court in which the proceeding took place for individual fees related to transcripts of court proceedings. Fees are also usually listed on each individual court’s website. The cost for paper copies will vary based on the length of the transcript.
Regarding high-profile cases, check local rules and administrative orders for that court. Links to Florida court websites, including the local rules for each court, can be found at www.flcourts.org. Many, if not all courts, including appellate courts and the Florida Supreme Court have administrative rules for access to high profile cases. Most will also have a court contact person, such as a public information officer to contact regarding the proceedings. Check the applicable court’s website for further information. If a case has been designated as a high profile case by the chief judge, court records in the case will be posted online. You can ask for such a designation as well.
The best place to find decorum tips is in the local court’s rules and administrative orders found on each circuit’s website. You can browse and search for each individual Florida court website at www.flcourts.org. Cellphones should be turned off or silenced prior to entering the courtroom or chambers. Items such as laptops may be permitted as long as it does not cause disturbance. Cellphones must be checked upon entering the Florida Supreme Court building. In certain federal buildings, cellphones are not permitted by anyone other than licensed Florida Bar attorneys and staff.
If you want access to a particular proceeding, it may be helpful to contact the local public information officer and/or the judicial assistant for the presiding judge. This allows the court to hold the hearing in the courtroom rather than in chambers if there is a need for additional space to accommodate your presence. It is typical practice for journalists to notify the presiding judge and/or the court administrator or court media specialist to make arrangements for camera coverage. The list of current judges and their staff is commonly located on the website of each specific court.
General information and directives for each Florida court can be found at www.flcourts.org. The Florida Bar Reporter’s Handbook is a good additional resource regarding the operation of Florida’s courts. Additionally, the Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual is a reference for compliance with Florida’s Public Records and Open Meetings Laws and contains some information on access to court records. That manual can be located online. The 2017 Manual can be found at http://myfloridalegal.com/webfiles.nsf/WF/MNOS-AXJGEU/$file/2018+Government+in+the+Sunshine+Manual.pdf. The website affiliated with the Florida Attorney General can also be a helpful resource, found at http://www.myflsunshine.com.
The Georgia state court system has five classes of trial-level courts: the magistrate, probate, juvenile, state and superior courts. A statewide business court began operation in 2020. In addition, there are approximately 350 municipal courts operating locally. There are two appellate level courts: the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. The Judicial Council of Georgia and its Administrative Office of the Courts provides useful information at www.georgiacourts.gov.
Georgia courts are increasingly employing public information officers who are available to assist with media access and other issues. The Georgia Supreme Court’s is particularly effective, providing publicly accessible information about not only past but forthcoming decisions via the Court’s website at www.gasupreme.us. E.g., if an opinion is to issue on Monday, a list of the cases will be posted on Friday by 2:00 p.m. Summaries of noteworthy opinions are released contemporaneously with the opinions themselves.
The Georgia First Amendment Foundation is dedicated to advancing open government in Georgia, including to the state’s courts, and makes resources available for this purpose at www.gfaf.org.
Idaho has an active Idaho Press Club, which offers many insights and helpful hints on its website to members of the media and public. See http://www.idahopressclub.org. In addition, the judiciary has been proactive in dealing with the media through the Idaho Supreme Court’s Media and Courts Committee (http://www.isc.idaho.gov/main/judicial-committees), the Media and Court Conflicts Resolution Panel (aka “Fire-Brigade”) (http://www.isc.idaho.gov/files/Media_Guide-REVISION-DRAFT-10-28-13.pdf at 25) and by publishing a Media Guide to the Idaho Courts. Id. All of these are good resources to turn to when questions about covering Idaho’s courts arise.
There is no dedicated press liaison for the Illinois state courts. The federal district court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago has a Public Information Officer, Julie Hodek, who can be reached at email@example.com or phone at (312) 435-5693.
The state system: Illinois has a supreme court, appellate courts, and circuit courts. The Illinois Supreme Court sits in Springfield, the state capital. The appellate courts sit in the state’s five judicial districts. The circuit courts fall under the state’s 24 judicial circuits, which are divided among the five appellate districts. Each circuit covers multiple counties, although a handful of the circuits are one-county circuits (Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry, and Will,). Each appellate district includes multiple circuits. The exception is the Circuit Court of Cook County, which is the only circuit that falls under the First Appellate District.
The circuit courts are made up of several divisions, including law, chancery, criminal, family, probate, and county divisions. The Circuit Court of Cook County has two departments: municipal and county. The Municipal Department generally hears civil actions for money no greater than $30,000. The County Department has seven divisions: law, chancery, criminal, domestic relations, county, probate, and juvenile, plus a pending elder law and miscellaneous remedies division. The Law Division hears civil actions for money greater than $30,000. The Chancery Division hears matters such as class actions and requests for injunctions and other equitable remedies.
The Illinois Supreme Court has seven justices. Three of them are elected from the First District, and the other four are elected from each of the four remaining judicial districts. Each justice serves a ten-year term. Appellate judges also are elected and serve ten-year terms. The First District has 24 judges, and the other four districts have between seven and nine judges each. The circuit courts have two types of judges: circuit judges and associate judges. Circuit judges are elected and serve six-year terms. Each circuit has a chief judge elected by its circuit judges. Associate judges are appointed by circuit judges for four-year terms. An associate judge cannot hear criminal felony cases unless authorized by the Illinois Supreme Court.
Obtaining transcripts: Contact the clerk’s office at the relevant court. Forms for requesting transcripts are available online.
Decorum issues: You need to check with each courthouse to determine its rules about cell phones and computers. Some courts prohibit cell phones if they have cameras. It is generally not acceptable to be eating or drinking in the courtroom especially while proceedings are ongoing.
Structure of the Court System. The Indiana court system is comprised of superior and circuit courts, the Court of Appeals, and the Indiana Supreme Court. The Indiana court system also includes the Tax Court, small claims courts, traffic courts, commercial courts, and juvenile courts, among others.
Contact Information for Courts in Indiana. The Director of Courts and Clerks in Indiana can be found here: https://www.in.gov/judiciary/files/court-directory.pdf.
Obtaining Transcripts. To request a transcript, submit an Access to Public Records Request or contact your local court. A sample letter is available online: https://www.in.gov/pac/files/sample_records_request_letter.pdf. Additionally, Indiana Courts provide specific contacts for the media: http://www.in.gov/judiciary/2802.htm.
Covering High-Profile Cases in Indiana. When covering high profile cases, the media is advised to request access early to cover the case with cameras in the courtroom. The “Cameras in the Courtroom” guide suggests that any photographer wishing to cover a Supreme Court argument contact the Court approximately 40 hours before the scheduled time. See https://www.in.gov/judiciary/2721.htm.
Tips on Decorum in Indiana Courts. Always show the judge and the court staff respect, refraining from interrupting and respecting the court’s particular procedures. Be on time and wear professional attire.
Suggested Resources on Indiana Courts.
- “Public Access Handbook”: https://www.in.gov/pac/files/PAC%20Handbook%202017.pdf
- “Frequently Asked Questions About Administrative Rule 9”: http://www.in.gov/judiciary/iocs/files/pubs-accesshandbook-faq.pdf
- “Public Access to Court Records Handbook”: http://www.in.gov/judiciary/iocs/files/PublicAccessHandbook.pdf
Iowa District Courts have general jurisdiction over all civil, criminal, juvenile, and probate matters. Iowa is divided into eight judicial districts, determined by the legislature, which vary in population and size. See generally Iowa Courts, Iowa Judicial Branch, https://www.iowacourts.gov/iowa-courts. The Iowa Judicial Branch website also contains contact information for the courts within the state of Iowa. Court Directory, Iowa Judicial Branch, https://www.iowacourts.gov/court-directory.
In each county, a clerk of district court office manages all trial court records filed in the county. Cases may be heard by a District Judge, District Associate Judge, Associate Juvenile Judge, Associate Probate Judge or a Judicial Magistrate. District Judges have general jurisdiction over all types of cases heard by the District Courts, while other types of judges have jurisdiction that is limited to certain types of cases.
The two appellate courts in Iowa are the Iowa Court of Appeals and the Iowa Supreme Court. All appeals are made to the Iowa Supreme Court. The supreme court may transfer cases to the court of appeals for consideration. In addition to deciding cases, the Iowa Supreme Court is responsible for attorney licensing and discipline, promulgating rules of procedure and practice, and overseeing the operation of the state court system.
The Iowa Supreme Court and the Iowa Court of Appeals are located in the Iowa Judicial Branch Building, 1111 East Court Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50319. The telephone number for the Clerk of the Supreme Court is (515) 281-5911. The Supreme Court Communications Officer can be reached at 515-725-8058.
The clerk of court is the custodian of the official court record which typically will include the name of the court reporter. A party ordering a transcript must make arrangements with the court reporter for payment of the transcript costs. Iowa R. App. P. 6.803(5). The court reporter’s fee for an ordinary transcript in Iowa cannot exceed $3.50 per page. Iowa Ct. Rule 22.28.
The Iowa Court Rules specifically address how media personnel should act in the courtroom. Rule 25 states, “[n]ews media personnel are prohibited from moving about the courtroom while proceedings are in session and from engaging in any movement which attracts undue attention.” Iowa Ct. Rule 25.4(5). In addition, “[a]ll news media personnel shall be properly attired and shall maintain proper courtroom decorum at all times while covering a judicial proceeding.” Id. 25.4(6).
In addition, the Reporter’s Guide to Iowa’s Court System also encourages members of the media to wear proper attire and to turn off cellphones and pagers. Reporter’s Guide to Iowa’s Court System, Iowa Judicial Branch https://www.iowacourts.gov/static/media/cms/reporters_guide_to_IJB_2014_646362F2671A4.pdf. The Iowa State Bar Association website at http://www.iowabar.org is an additional useful resource. Additional information on the Iowa open meetings and public records laws and the administration of requests for expanded media coverage of trial and appellate courts can be obtained from the Iowa Freedom of Information Council at http://ifoic.org.
For more information on Iowa law and Iowa courts, consult the Iowa Code and the Iowa Court Rules, which can be accessed at the State Law Library, located on the second floor of the Capitol Building, 1007 E. Grand Ave. Des Moines, IA 50319, or online, at: https://www.legis.iowa.gov/law. The Iowa Judicial Branch website is https://www.iowacourts.gov.
For an overview of the Kansas judicial system, see Kansas Courts on the state Judicial Branch’s website, at: http://www.kscourts.org/kansas-courts/general-information/default.asp. A chart, Kansas Court System, sets forth the structure and jurisdiction of the courts and may be found at http://www.kscourts.org/pdf/ctchart.pdf.
Contact information for Kansas district courts is available at http://www.kscourts.org/kansas-courts/general-information/contacts.asp. Guidance for contacting municipal courts is at http://www.kscourts.org/kansas-courts/municipal-courts/default.asp.
Guidelines for requesting transcripts, cases files and other court records at http://www.kscourts.org/rules-procedures-forms/open-records-procedures/default.asp.
Procedures for coverage of high-profile cases historically have been set up on an ad hoc basis, with no set protocol, according to Ron Keefover, former Kansas Judicial Branch information-education officer. Information about arrangements for coverage of a case may be requested from either or both of the following:
Lisa Taylor, Public Information Director
301 SW 10th Avenue, Room 337
Topeka, Kansas 66612-1507
Phone: (785) 296-4872
Fax: (785) 296-7076
Office of Judicial Administration
301 SW 10th Avenue, Room 337
Topeka, Kansas 66612-1507
Phone: (785) 296-2256
Fax: (785) 296-7076
When in courtrooms to cover proceedings, members of the media must comply with Kansas Supreme Court Rule 1001, Media Coverage of Judicial Proceedings, http://www.kscourts.org/rules/Media_Coverage/Rule%201001.pdf. The rule requires that, when in a courtroom, members of the media have permission from the judge to use electronic devices such as laptops while covering proceedings.
In courtrooms, according to Rule 1001, judges are responsible for the “integrity” of proceedings,” and they maintain control over all activities in the courtroom and to some extent outside of it. In sections (c)(1) and (2), Rule 1001 generally allows persons in the courtroom to possess laptops, cellphones and other devices, as long as they are turned off and put away out of sight. Possession of the devices is a qualified privilege, though. Under section (e)(3), a judge is authorized to disallow possession by any observer during a proceeding. Moreover, persons are prohibited from activating and using the devices unless specifically permitted by the judge under sections (e)(1) and (2). Section (d)(2) provides for confiscation of a device that is used in a courtroom without permission. Also see Kan. Sup. Ct. R. 161, Courtroom Decorum, http://www.kscourts.org/rules/District_Rules/Rule%20161.pdf, which appears in Rules Adopted by the Supreme Court/Rules Relating to District Courts. http://www.kscourts.org/rules/District_Court.asp.
A primary source of information about Kansas courts is the state’s Judicial Branch website, http://www.kscourts.org. The website includes the following resources:
- Justice in Kansas (a video about the structure and function of the Kansas Judicial Branch), http://www.kscourts.org/programs/educational-services/Justice-in-Kansas/default.asp.
- You and the Courts of Kansas (an online pamphlet about the state’s court system), http://www.kscourts.org/kansas-courts/general-information/you-and-the-courts/default.asp.
- Frequently Asked Questions, http://www.kscourts.org/kansas-courts/general-information/faq.asp.
- Kansas Supreme Court and Kansas Court of Appeals Opinions, http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/opinions/default.asp.
- Dockets and Oral Arguments (for the appellate courts), http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/dockets/default.asp.
- District Court Contacts, http://www.kscourts.org/kansas-courts/general-information/contacts.asp.
- Appellate Court Contacts, http://www.kscourts.org/kansas-courts/general-information/appellate-court-contacts.asp
- Kansas Courts Electronic Filing, http://www.kscourts.org/Cases-and-Opinions/e-filing/default.asp.
- Canons of Judicial Conduct, http://www.kscourts.org/Kansas-Courts/Supreme-Court/Orders/2009/2009sc006.pdf
- Kansas Rules of Professional Conduct, http://www.kscourts.org/rules/Rule-List.asp?r1=Rules+Relating+to+Discipline+of+Attorneys
Generally, Kentucky state courts do not have transcripts of proceedings. The proceedings are video/audio recorded, and the recordings constitute the record of proceedings. Copies of the recordings are generally available to the public from the clerks’ offices.
There are four levels of court in Kentucky. The appellate courts include the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeals. The trial courts are divided into Circuit Court, which has general jurisdiction, and District Court, which has limited jurisdiction.
District Court has jurisdiction over juvenile matters, child abuse and neglect, and domestic violence cases, city and county ordinances, traffic offenses, misdemeanor criminal cases, probate, commitment/guardianship cases, felony preliminary hearings, and civil cases involving $5,000 or less.
Circuit Courts have general jurisdiction and preside over civil matters involving more than $5,000, capital offenses and felonies, divorces, adoptions, termination of parental rights, real estate title cases, contested probate cases, and appeals from the District Court and from most administrative agencies.
Family Court is a division of Circuit Court and became a permanent part of Kentucky’s state court system with the 2002 passage of the Family Court Amendment to Kentucky’s state constitution. Family Court judges are judges of the Circuit Court, but Family Court hears only cases involving families and children and its jurisdiction includes divorce, child support and visitation, paternity, adoption, domestic violence cases, dependency, neglect and abuse cases, termination of parental rights, and runaways and truancy (status offenses).
Kentucky’s Open Records Act, KRS 61.870, et seq., has been held not to apply to the courts of Kentucky, including the courts’ administrative records, because of constitutional separation of powers. Ex parte Farley, 570 S.W.2d 617, 618 (Ky. 1978). The Supreme Court of Kentucky has enacted an Open Records Policy for the Administrative Office of the Courts. For a copy of the policy, see https://courts.ky.gov/courts/supreme/Rules_Procedures/201709.pdf.
Contact information and additional information pertaining to all of Kentucky’s state courts is available online at https://courts.ky.gov. Kentucky’s Court of Justice also has an Office of Public Information and publishes a Reporter’s Handbook. See https://courts.ky.gov/aoc/publicinformation/Pages/default.aspx. The Court of Justice also maintains a separate page specific to the news media. See https://courts.ky.gov/Pages/media.aspx.
The Louisiana Supreme Court is composed of seven justices elected from districts for 10-year terms. The Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction in only two categories of cases: (1) cases in which a law or ordinance has been declared unconstitutional; and (2) cases where the death penalty has been imposed. The Court has exclusive original jurisdiction of disciplinary proceedings against lawyers, recommendations of the judiciary commission for discipline of judges, and fact questions affecting its own appellate jurisdiction. The Court has supervisory jurisdiction over all lower courts, and most of the Court’s docket consists of cases heard by writ applications under this discretionary jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court Clerk of Court’s website is https://www.lasc.org/ClerksOffice.
There are five Courts of Appeal (not “Appeals”). The 1st Circuit, located in Baton Rouge, hears cases from 16 of Louisiana’s 64 parishes in the southeastern part of the state; the 2nd Circuit, located in Shreveport, hears appeals from 20 parishes in the northern part of the state; the 3rd Circuit, located in Lake Charles, hears appeals from 21 parishes in the southwestern part of the state; the 4th Circuit, located in New Orleans, hears appeals from New Orleans and the two southeastern-most parishes; and the 5th Circuit, located in Gretna, hears appeals from four parishes in the southeastern part of the state, including Jefferson Parish, the largest suburb of New Orleans. Judges are elected from districts or at-large within their circuits for 10-year terms.
The Courts of Appeal Clerks of Court websites are as follows: First Circuit—https://www.la-fcca.org/; Second Circuit—https://www.la2nd.org/; Third Circuit—https://www.la3circuit.org/; Fourth Circuit—https://www.la4th.org/; Fifth Circuit—https://www.fifthcircuit.org/.
The Courts of Appeal have appellate jurisdiction over all civil matters, all matters appealed from family and juvenile courts, and all criminal cases triable by a jury which arise within their circuits, except for those cases appealable directly to the Supreme Court or to the district courts. As a practical matter, this means that the Courts of Appeal hear most of the civil and criminal appeals in Louisiana. The Courts of Appeal also have discretionary supervisory jurisdiction over all court within their circuits. This jurisdiction is exercised through the writ application process.
The District Court is Louisiana’s trial court of general jurisdiction. There are 40 judicial districts in Louisiana, containing from one to three parishes each, as well as a district comprising Orleans Parish. There is a district court domiciled at the parish seat of each of the 63 parishes outside of Orleans Parish. For example, in districts comprised of more than one parish, each parish has a separate court with its own clerk and separate docket but served by the judge or judges for the judicial district. In Orleans, the district court is divided into civil and criminal district courts. All district judges are elected to six-year terms.
In general, district courts have jurisdiction over all matters within their territorial limits. Exceptions occur in Orleans, and in the 1st, 19th, and 24th judicial districts, where family and juvenile courts have exclusive jurisdiction over those types of cases. Further, in Orleans Parish, violations of municipal ordinances are tried by the municipal and traffic courts. There are also trial courts of limited jurisdiction, such as city court, parish court, municipal and traffic in New Orleans, and justices of the peace.
This page on the Louisiana Supreme Court’s website provides addresses and telephone numbers for all clerks of court as well as links to those clerk’s offices that have websites: https://www.laclerksofcourt.org/clerks-of-court.
The “Louisiana Legal Directory,” an annual publication of the Louisiana State Bar Association, is a useful resource for persons dealing regularly with the Courts (or with government generally). The majority of the book comprises listings and information about Louisiana attorneys; the “yellow pages” section, however, contains information about each court in the state, including addresses, telephone numbers, website addresses and names of the individuals holding positions such as judge, clerk of court, judicial administrator, etc. The yellow pages section also contains similar information on the legislative and executive branches of state government and on all three branches of the federal government.
Transcripts are obtained by contacting the court reporter and asking for a transcript. Costs will vary and are, for at least some courts, set by statute. The law relating to court reporters can be found at La. R.S. 13:961 et seq, and 13:1271 et seq.
Some courts purport to prohibit cellphones entirely, but as a practical matter, the rule is that cellphones had best not be heard to ring or buzz. Eating or drinking is generally prohibited. Reading and writing is generally allowed.
This page on the Louisiana Supreme Court’s website provides links to maps showing the geographical boundaries of the circuit courts of appeal and of the district courts, and the electoral boundaries of the supreme court districts: http://www.lasc.org/about_the_court/maps_of_jd.asphttps://www.lasc.org/About/MapsofJudicialDistricts.
The judicial branch has published guides to the court system, including the Citizens Guide to the Maine Court, which is available on the judicial branch’s website at http://www.courts.maine.gov/reports_pubs/pubs/index.html.
The guide explains that the Maine judicial branch consists of the Supreme Judicial Court, the trial courts and the Administrative Office of the Courts. Judges are nominated by the Governor to serve seven-year terms and confirmed by the legislature. Probate judges are an exception. They are elected to four-year terms by the voters of each county.
The Supreme Judicial Court has general administrative and supervisory authority over the judicial branch. Its head, the Chief Justice, designates a Superior Court Chief Justice and District Court Chief Judge to oversee the day-to-day administrative operations of those courts, and also appoints the State Court Administrator, who runs the Administrative Office of the Courts. In addition, the Chief Justice takes an active hand in designing and administering procedures aimed at the speedy and just resolution of cases in the trial courts.
There are three classes of courts in Maine: (1) County Courts (i.e., probate court); (2) Trial Courts (i.e., the District Court and the Superior Court); and (3) The Supreme Judicial Court (i.e., the highest court of appeals in Maine). There is no intermediate court of appeals in Maine.
A contact directory for the Maine courts can be found on its website. For information on a particular case, contact the clerk of the court in which the case is pending. As a rule, the clerk’s office staff is exceptionally helpful and user friendly.
In Maine, hearings may be transcribed by a live court reporter or recorded and transcribed from a recording. A transcript is usually only prepared at the request of one of the parties for use on appeal, and when fees have been paid. The record on appeal will include those portions of the transcript relevant to the appeal and a copy may be obtained from the appellate file.
The courts may require a pool photographer or videographer in high-profile cases or where there are multiple requests for cameras or other recording equipment. There are no recent high-profile cases known to the author in which special restrictions were imposed.
The courts will permit cellphones and computers in the courthouse, although cellphones and computers must be turned off during proceedings. Food and drink should not be consumed in the courtroom, although they are allowed in the courthouse. There is no prohibition on reading or writing during proceedings, absent leave of court.
The courts appreciate neat professional attire from spectators, meaning no shorts, jeans or t-shirts. Media representatives are well served by maintaining professional decorum and dress and, per the Court, “shall wear appropriate and neat attire consistent with participation in matters of serious concern.”
The Maine judicial branch has also established a Committee on Media and the Courts, which was designed to “facilitate and improve communication between the judiciary and the media and to enhance the accuracy and flow of information made available to the public concerning the courts of Maine.” See State of Maine Judicial Branch, Judicial Branch Committee on Media and the Courts, https://www.courts.maine.gov/maine_courts/committees/media.html.
The judicial branch maintains a very helpful website at http://www.courts.state.me.us/index.shtml. The state-wide legal newspaper (published bi-monthly) is the Maine Lawyers Review. See http://www.mainelawyersreview.com. The Maine State Bar Association publishes the Maine Bar Journal and offers information on the legal profession in the State. See http://www.mainebar.org. The only accredited law school in the State of Maine is the University of Maine Law School in Portland. See http://mainelaw.maine.edu. The Law School maintains a law library in Portland. The State also maintains a law library in Augusta, which is particularly for legislative matters (the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library). See http://legislature.maine.gov/lawlibrary/. The various County courthouses maintain law libraries of their own, often with limited collections. The Cleaves Law Library at the Cumberland County Courthouse is an exception; it is extensive and helpful. See http://www.cleaves.org. Cleaves maintains a list of Maine practice materials at http://www.cleaves.org/mepracmat1.htm.
The leading professional associations for the media in Maine are the Maine Press Association, the Maine Association of Broadcasters and the Maine Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. The Maine Freedom of Information Coalition, http://www.mfoic.org/, is the only state wide non-profit devoted to government transparency.
The Bench-Bar-Media Advisory Group’s Journalist’s Guide to Maryland’s Legal System offers a wealth of practical advice for journalists covering the Maryland courts. It is available online at: https://online.flippingbook.com/view/691761/. The Maryland Court of Appeals streams its oral arguments online at: http://courts.state.md.us/coappeals/webcasts/index.html. You can also obtain information about the jurisdiction and location of the various courts from the Maryland Courts website: http://www.mdcourts.gov.
Contact information for the various courts is available at the Maryland Courts website: http://www.courts.state.md.us/courtsdirectory.
The Maryland District Courts audio record all proceedings. While transcripts are available only to litigants in certain civil cases on appeal, anyone may request a recording of a proceeding, at the cost of $15 per proceeding. For more information, see the District Courts website at http://www.mdcourts.gov/district/forms/acct/dca027br.pdf.
Clerks of courts are also required to make computer terminals available at courthouses that the public may use free of charge in order to access judicial records that are open to inspection. See Md. Rule 16-910(c).
Procedures vary by court and individual judge. When in doubt, ask the courtroom deputy for guidance.
Massachusetts courts maintain a webpage with links and resources pertaining to dockets and court calendars. See also Boston College Law Library, Dockets and Court Filings Research (providing information about online docket access for all levels of Massachusetts courts).
Massachusetts courts maintain a Courtroom Media Access page with resources and contact information for the news media. The Supreme Judicial Court has a Judiciary-Media Committee which meets quarterly to discuss media access and issues in the judicial system.
Judges have differing rules on courtroom decorum. Some allow cell phones to be brought into the courtroom, although they should be turned off. During jury trials, reporters should take care to make calls away from the jury room, or they may face reprimand from the judge. Courts treat cell phone cameras as they do traditional cameras. See “Other issues/Cameras and other technology in the courtroom” above.
Note-taking is allowed, but reporters must seek permission from the trial court before using any recording device, whether a video camera or an audio recorder. They should also seek permission before blogging or “tweeting” from inside a courtroom.
The Minnesota Judicial Branch website, http://www.mncourts.gov/, contains several useful resources for the media, including:
- A judicial branch structure chart (http://www.mncourts.gov/mncourtsgov/media/CIOMediaLibrary/DocumentLibrary/QF-Jurisdiction2014.pdf);
- Contact information for various divisions of the Minnesota court system (http://www.mncourts.gov/Find-Courts.aspx); and
- A Media Resource Center, with contact information for public affairs and media relations (http://www.mncourts.gov/media.aspx).
The Mississippi Supreme Court is the state court of last resort. Decisions of the Chancery, Circuit and County Courts and of the Court of Appeals may be appealed to the Supreme Court. Appeals which go directly to the Supreme Court include annexations, bond issues, constitutionality challenges, death penalty cases, disciplinary matters involving attorneys and judges, election contests, certified questions from federal court, utility rates, cases of first impression and issues of broad public interest.
The Court of Appeals hears cases assigned by the Supreme Court. The Court of Appeals hears and decides appeals on issues in which the law is already settled, but the facts are in dispute. The Supreme Court may review Court of Appeals decisions. Otherwise, the Court of Appeals decision stands.
Circuit Courts hear felony criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits. Circuit Courts hear appeals from County, Justice and Municipal courts and from administrative boards and commissions such as the Workers’ Compensation Commission and the Mississippi Department of Employment Security.
Chancery Courts handle disputes in matters involving equity; domestic matters including adoptions, custody disputes and divorces; guardianships; sanity hearings; wills; and challenges to constitutionality of state laws. Land records are filed in Chancery Court. Chancery Courts have jurisdiction over juvenile matters in counties that have no County Court.
County Courts have exclusive jurisdiction over eminent domain proceedings and juvenile matters, among other things. In counties that have a County Court, a County Court judge also serves as the Youth Court judge. County Courts share jurisdiction with Circuit and Chancery Courts in some civil matters. The jurisdictional limit of County Courts is up to $200,000. County Courts may handle non-capital felony cases transferred from Circuit Court. County Court judges may issue search warrants, set bond and preside over preliminary hearings. County Courts have concurrent jurisdiction with Justice Courts in all matters, civil and criminal.
Justice Courts handle small claims civil cases involving amounts of $3,500 or less, misdemeanor criminal cases and any traffic offense that occurs outside a municipality. Judges may conduct bond hearings and preliminary hearings in felony criminal cases and may issue search warrants.
Drug Courts handle crimes committed by those addicted to drugs or alcohol. These special courts seek to rehabilitate drug-using offenders through drug treatment and intense supervision with drug testing and frequent court appearances.
Municipal courts handle misdemeanor crimes, municipal ordinances and city traffic violations. Judges may conduct initial appearances in which defendants are advised of the charges being filed, as well as bond hearings and preliminary hearings.
Youth courts handle cases involving offenses committed by juveniles (those younger than 18) as well cases involving the abuse and neglect of juveniles. In the 20 counties that have a County Court, those judges also serve as Youth Court judges. In counties without a County Court, the Chancery Judge may hear Youth Court matters, or the Chancery Judge may appoint a lawyer to act as Youth Court Referee. Youth court records and proceedings are generally not open to the public.
Supreme Court Justices and Administration: (601) 359-3697
Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Clerk’s Office: (601) 359-3694
Court of Appeals Judges: (601) 576-4665
Circuit Courts and lower state court information is available from their individual websites.
Written transcripts for oral arguments are not available through the clerk’s office, but audio recordings are available on CD. The recordings cost $25 and can be purchased at the clerk’s office or by mailing a request the case number and date the case was argued along with payment to the clerk’s office.
Oral arguments before the Mississippi Supreme Court can be watched live on the courts website or can be watched later at http://judicial.mc.edu/vidbrief.php, a service provided by the Mississippi College Law School.
The court system does not provide information on decorum.
A media Frequently Asked Questions website can be found at: https://courts.ms.gov/records/media.php
Montana has a structured court system including: municipal court exercising jurisdiction over traffic and other minor offenses occurring within a city; a small claims court operated by a county justice of the peace; justice of the peace handling criminal misdemeanors and civil matters involving claims of $10,000 or less; district courts (courts of record) handling all civil and criminal matters; and a Supreme Court handling all appeals from courts of record. Montana is a small enough state for the reporter to become personally acquainted with a judge or clerk of court. That relationship may dictate how much access the reporter may have with records and court hearings. The better the relationship, the better the access.
The County Courts have jurisdiction over: misdemeanor cases, including traffic and municipal ordinance violations; preliminary hearings in felony cases; civil cases involving less than $53,000; small claims involving less than $2,700; probate, guardianship, conservatorship, adoption and eminent domain; and often function as juvenile courts (except in Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster counties). Douglas, Sarpy and Lancaster Counties have separate Juvenile Courts that have jurisdiction over County Court juvenile cases. The County Courts serve 12 districts and have 58 judges.
District Courts have trial court general jurisdiction in felony cases, domestic relation cases, and civil cases. As an appellate court, the District Courts can hear some County Court appeals and administrative agency appeals. The District Courts serve 12 districts and have 55 judges.
The Workers’ Compensation Courts has seven judges that hear cases throughout the state. They have jurisdiction over injuries and illnesses caused by occupations.
The Court of Appeals consists of six judges. Panels of three judges hear appeals throughout the state. The Court of Appeals acts as an intermediate appellate court, and hears all trial court appeals except those heard by the Supreme Court pursuant to: mandatory jurisdiction; direct appeal status; removal procedures; and bypass procedures.
The Nebraska Supreme Court is made up of a Chief Justice and six judges. It is the highest appellate court and hears discretionary appeals from the Court of Appeals. It hears mandatory appeals in capital cases and cases concerning the constitutionality of statutes. It may also hear cases removed from or that have bypassed the Court of Appeals or by a petition of further review after the Court of Appeals has decided a case. It also has original jurisdiction over specified cases.
The contact information for the courts can be found on the Nebraska Judicial Branch website at www.supremecourt.ne.gov. Press questions can be answered at www.supremecourt.ne.gov/press. The courts can also be contacted at:
Administrative Office of the Courts
1445 K Street
1213 State Capitol
P. O. Box 98910
Lincoln, NE 68509-8910
Briefs and transcripts can be obtained by contacting the clerk of the court where the case is being heard. For example, Supreme Court briefs can be obtained by contacting the Clerk of the Supreme Court. Fees will vary with court and length of document. If a court reporter has recorded a proceeding but has not been requested by the court or a party to transcribe the recording, anyone requesting that a transcript be prepared will have to pay for same.
Generally, eating and drinking are prohibited in courtrooms. Most judges require that cell phones be turned off while the owner is in the courtroom, although cell phones may be used with permission granted under the expanded news media coverage rules. The clerk of the court should be consulted before computers are used in a courtroom, as judges’ practices vary. The expanded news media coverage rules permit reporters to use computers and other electronic devices to engage in live coverage of judicial proceedings, subject to obtaining approval in advance.
Both the Nebraska Press Association and the Nebraska Broadcasters Association operate legal “hotlines” available to their members. Hotline attorneys can provide information to NPA and NBA members regarding Nebraska courts.
The clerks of particular courts are generally willing and able to answer questions about the operation of their courts.
It is suggested that in addition to following the requirements of the Nevada Supreme Court’s Rules on Electronic Coverage of Court Proceedings (S.C.R. 229-246), reporters check with posted court department guidelines regarding protocol and other preferences and requirements specific to each judge. This information can generally be obtained by visiting the judges page on district courts’ websites.
In addition to understanding the presumption of openness and the difference between its scope under the New Hampshire Constitution and common law, journalists will find the clerks of court to be knowledgeable and helpful for obtaining access to court proceedings and records. In addition, the Judicial Branch Communications Manager and media contact person is Carole Alfano. She can be reached at (603) 271-2646 Ext, 0243, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The New Mexico court system is structured as follows:
(1) Probate court: comprises thirty-three judges for each of the thirty-three counties and possess limited jurisdiction to hear uncontested informal probate and estate cases. In probate court there are no jury trials, and any contested cases go to the district court.
(2) Municipal Court: comprises eighty-three judges for eighty-one municipal courts, which are courts of limited jurisdiction. Municipal courts will hear petty misdemeanors, DWI/DUI CASES, traffic violations, and other municipal ordinance violations. There are no jury trials.
(3) Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court: comprises nineteen judges who hear cases involving torts, contracts, landlord/tenant rights ($0-10,000), felony first appearances, misdemeanors, DWI/DUIs, domestic violence, and other traffic violations. Jury trials are heard.
(4) Magistrate Court: Sixty-seven judges preside over fifty-four magistrate courts. These are courts of limited jurisdiction in which jury trials are heard. Magistrate courts hear cases sounding in torts, contracts, landlord/tenant rights ($0-10,000), felony preliminary hearings, misdemeanors, DWI/DUIs and other traffic violations.
(5) District Court: Ninety-four judges preside over thirteen districts. These are courts of general jurisdiction which hold jury trials for torts, contracts, real property rights, estates, and misdemeanors. The court possesses exclusive jurisdiction over domestic relations, mental health, appeals for administrative agencies and lower courts in addition to criminal appeals and juvenile matters.
(6) Court of Appeals: Ten judges preside, sitting in panels of three. The court has offices in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. The court has mandatory jurisdiction in civil, non-capital criminal, and juvenile cases and discretionary jurisdiction in interlocutory decision cases and administrative agency appeals.
(7) Supreme Court: comprises five Justices and is located in Santa Fe. This is the court of last resort and has superintending control over all inferior courts and attorneys licensed in the state. The Supreme Court exercises mandatory appellate jurisdiction over criminal matters in which the sentence imposed is life in prison or the death penalty, appeals from the Public Regulation Commission, appeals from the granting of writs of habeas corpus, appeals in actions challenging nominations, and removal of public officials. The court exercises discretionary jurisdiction over denials of petitions for writ of habeas corpus, petitions for writ of certiorari to the Court of Appeals, other extraordinary writ matters, and certified questions either from the Court of Appeals or federal courts.
Contact information for the courts in this jurisdiction is as follows:
New Mexico Administrative Office of the Courts
The State of New Mexico
237 Don Gaspar, Santa Fe, NM 87501
To obtain a transcript of a court proceeding, arrangements should be made with the court reporter present at the hearing. To obtain a transcript of an audio recorded hearing, contact a certified transcriber/transcription service or court reporter and provide the following information: case number, case caption, hearing judge, hearing date, type of hearing, courtroom, and deadline. Requesters may contact any certified transcription service or court reporter for this purpose. To obtain a copy of a digital file for a purpose other than creation of the official transcript, contact the Clerk's Office at 505-348-2020. The cost is $26 regardless of the medium. CJA attorneys and government agencies may obtain tapes or CDs at no cost. Information regarding transcripts of hearing transcribed by a court reporter can be obtained by calling the court reporter directly, or by calling the Court Reporter Coordinator, at 505-348-2056. Information regarding the digital audio recorded transcripts or the court file can be obtained by calling the Clerk's Office at 505-348-2020.
On February 20, 2017, the New Mexico Supreme Court adopted rules governing access to digitized court records. The SOPA (Secured Odyssey Public Access) system addresses who may access court records, how to access court records, and documents and proceedings that are not public. The new rules and procedures raise a number of First Amendment and open records issues, but they have not been tested. New Mexico Supreme Court Rule 17-8500-001, February 20, 2017.
Caution should be exercised in the coverage of high-profile cases within the jurisdiction. Too much press coverage could lead to a change in venue if a New Mexico court is led to believe that it is impossible to select a constitutionally impartial jury. State v. McGuire, 1990-NMSC-067, ¶ 22, 110 N.M. 304, 311, 795 P.2d 996, 1003. Compare Times-Picayune Pub. Corp. v. Schulingkamp, 419 U.S. 1301 (1974) (finding that although there was a heavy presumption against the restriction of media coverage’s constitutional validity, reporters’ rights must be balanced against a defendant's right to a fair trial before an impartial jury.), with State v. Barrera, 2001-NMSC-014, ¶ 18, 130 N.M. 227, 233, 22 P.3d 1177, 1183 (holding that “[e]xposure of venire members to publicity about case, by itself, does not establish prejudice or create a presumption of prejudice for purposes of determining whether change of venue is required.”). Ultimately, however, “[t]here may be prejudice as a result of media coverage, but only in extreme cases such as when a community is saturated with inflammatory and biased information near the time of trial.” State v. Courtney, No. 28,300, 2009 WL 6670339, at *1 (N.M. Ct. App. May 28, 2009) (citing State v. House, 1999–NMSC–014, ¶ 58, 127 N.M. 151, 978 P.2d 967) (upholding lower court’s finding of no prejudice when jury panel had been questioned regarding media coverage and defendant failed to provide concrete details of alleged prejudice).
In determining whether mid-trial publicity is inherently prejudicial to a criminal defendant, the trial court should determine the likelihood of juror exposure by looking at (1) prominence of publicity, including frequency of coverage, conspicuousness of story in newspaper, and profile of media source in local community, and (2) nature and likely effectiveness of trial judge's previous instructions on matter, including frequency of instruction to avoid outside materials, and time lapse between trial court's last instruction and publication of prejudicial material. State v. Holly, 2009-NMSC-004, ¶ 20, 145 N.M. 513, 518, 201 P.3d 844, 849.
The purpose of judicial proceedings is to ascertain the truth. Such proceedings should be conducted with fitting dignity and decorum, in a manner conducive to undisturbed deliberation, indicative of their importance to the people and to the litigants, and in an atmosphere that bespeaks the responsibilities of those who are charged with the administration of justice. Rule 1-090 NMRA. Courtroom and Courthouse Decorum requires that no cameras, cellular telephones with cameras, transmitters, receivers or recording equipment may be brought into or used in any courtroom or court environs. Environs include: the entire floor where a courtroom is located, the entire floor where the grand jury meets, and the entire floor where a chamber of any Magistrate Judge or District Judge is located. The prohibitions of this rule do not apply to a stenographic or recording device used by an official court reporter or other authorized court personnel, equipment brought into court during investiture, ceremonial or naturalization proceedings, a telephone or pager turned off while Court is in session, a lap-top computer as long as it does not make noise or interfere with court proceedings and is not used to record or transmit court proceedings, a note-taking or other device required because of a person's disability, a device to be used solely for the presentation of evidence, or attorneys and jurors with cellular telephones with cameras.
Pursuant to Rule 23-108 NMRA, “the supreme court and the district court libraries of the State of New Mexico shall be open to the public on regular court business days. Individual courts may by rule limit public access to their libraries, provided such rules adequately ensure that the public is not denied access to the law.” Id.
One of the best law libraries in the state is located at the University of New Mexico School of Law, 1117 Stanford, NE., Albuquerque, NM. It is open to the public. Resource librarians at law libraries can direct you to the books and publications you need to consult for your particular case. The Local Rules of the United States District Court, District of New Mexico are supplemental to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. A copy is available upon request from the Clerk's office and through the court's website. Although supplemental to the Federal Rules, the Local Rules are nonetheless very important. The Internet is also a vast resource of information. The District Court's home page's Legal Links lists a sample of legal sites that might be useful.
For more information on North Carolina Court Rules, visit http://www.aoc.state.nc.us/www/public/html/rulesgen.htm.
The Ohio Supreme Court is the state’s highest court. The Ohio Supreme Court must accept cases originating in the courts of appeal, death penalty cases, cases involving the U.S. Constitution and/or the Ohio Constitution and appeals from administrative bodies. The Ohio Supreme Court also has original jurisdiction over writs of prohibition (used when objecting to the closure of a proceeding) and writs of mandamus (used to enforce right of access to court records). The Ohio Supreme Court has seven justices and sets forth the rules used in the lower courts, including the Rules of Superintendence.
Ohio has 12 district courts of appeal. Each court of appeal has original jurisdiction to hear writs of mandamus and writs of prohibition. The Tenth District Court of Appeals also hears appeals from the Ohio Court of Claims. The Ohio Court of Claims has original jurisdiction over civil lawsuits filed against the state of Ohio and its agencies.
Ohio has three types of trial courts: courts of common pleas, municipal courts (or county courts) and mayor’s courts. Each of Ohio’s 88 counties has a court of common pleas which can then be divided into separate divisions by the Ohio General Assembly. Those divisions include the general, domestic relations, juvenile, and probate divisions. The general division handles all criminal felony cases and civil cases where the amount in question is more than $15,000. The domestic relations division has jurisdiction over all divorce and child support hearings, while the juvenile division hears cases involving individuals under age 18 charged with crimes. The probate division handles disputes over wills and supervision of estates and guardianships.
The municipal and county courts hear cases involving misdemeanors as well as civil cases where the amount in dispute is less than $15,000. Municipal and county court judges may also perform marriages. If a community does not have a municipal court, a county court must serve the district.
While not a part of the judicial branch, mayor’s courts continue in the state of Ohio in cities of more than 200 people without a municipal court. Mayor’s courts may only hear cases involving local ordinances and Ohio traffic laws. Appeals from a mayor’s court go to the municipal or county court.
See Judicial System Structure, Supreme Court of Ohio & Ohio Judicial System, http://www.supremecourt.ohio.gov/JudSystem/ (last visited Jan. 30, 2020).
Many Ohio courts have websites with contact information for judges, court clerks and other court personnel.
The primary court in which cases are normally initiated is the District Court. There is a District Court for each of 26 judicial districts covering all of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. A district courthouse is located in the county seat of each county (and there are a few counties in which a district court is located in more than one town in the county). Each judicial district is assigned at least one District Judge; each county has one or more Associate District Judge. The judicial districts are divided into nine administrative areas. Each administrative area has Special District Judges who handle uncontested matters and civil cases involving the recovery of less than $10,000. The District Court has jurisdiction over all civil and state criminal matters. In some more populous counties, the District Court may have divisions assigned to family, juvenile, small claims, drug, complex business, or other matters. Most cities and towns have municipal courts to handle traffic offenses or other purely municipal matters.
Appellate jurisdiction is divided between the Oklahoma Supreme Court for civil matters and the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals for criminal matters. The Supreme Court, consisting of nine justices, is the only constitutional court, and it has superintending control over the Court of Criminal Appeals, which has five judges; the Supreme Court will defer to the Court of Criminal Appeals in any matter relating to an appeal from a verdict and judgment in a criminal case. All civil and criminal appeals are filed with the Clerk of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decides in each civil case whether it will retain jurisdiction to hear the appeal or assign the case to one of two divisions of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals. Each division of the Court of Civil Appeals consists of two panels of three judges. The judges on the Court of Civil Appeals rotate panel assignments each year. Most civil appeals are assigned to the Court of Civil Appeals for initial disposition unless the appeal presents a question of first impression or involves a significant public policy issue that the Supreme Court chooses to address itself. Parties can ask the Supreme Court to retain jurisdiction but such requests are not often granted. After an initial decision by the Court of Civil Appeals, further review by the Supreme Court is by petition for certiorari, the grant of which is entirely discretionary with the Supreme Court.
Contact information for courts and court clerks at all levels is readily available at www.oscn.net.
Transcripts are usually obtained by contacting the assigned court reporter directly.
Each District Court (and sometimes individual judges) will have its own rules of decorum with which all individuals attending a proceeding, including media, are expected to be aware. Generally, cell phones are permitted in the courtroom so long as they are silenced and are not used in the courtroom without the court’s permission. Use of computers by trial participants is now routine, but acceptance of the use of computers by spectators varies from court to court. Oklahoma has not established any uniform set of rules regarding blogging, tweeting, or similar activity in the courtroom.
Oregon has a Supreme Court, a Court of Appeals, and various circuit courts. Circuit courts are courts of general jurisdiction, including juvenile and probate jurisdiction. See ORS 3.260; 111.055. Circuit court decisions can be appealed to the Court of Appeals, and Court of Appeals decisions may be appealed to the Supreme Court.
Oregon has various other courts, including both municipal and justice courts. Municipal courts are created by city charters and decisions may be appealed to circuit courts. Justice courts are created by counties. In some areas, Oregon has county courts that handle juvenile or probate matters. See ORS 3.260; 111.055. County court decisions can be appealed to the circuit court.
Oregon also has a tax court to handle tax claims, and a Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA), which governs land-use disputes. Tax court decisions can be appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court. LUBA decisions can be appealed to the Court of Appeals.
For more information on Oregon courts, see Chapter 3 of Open Oregon’s Media Guide (2009), http://open-oregon.org/category/media-guide/.
Links to information, including contact information, regarding all courts of the state can be found at: https://www.courts.oregon.gov/about/Pages/default.aspx.
In most trial court matters, proceedings are documented by audio recording, unless the parties hire a court reporter and obtain a court order designating the reporter’s transcript as the official record. Audio recordings and transcripts can generally be obtained by contacting the records clerk for the specific trial court. If the parties did not pay the required hearing fee, the court typically still records the hearing, but it is possible that the court will refuse to release the audio recording until the fee is paid.
The Oregon Uniform Trial Court Rules, chapter 3, covers decorum in judicial proceedings. The rules discuss proper attire, manner of address for the court, and other useful tips. UTCR 3 (2021) https://www.courts.oregon.gov/rules/UTCR/2021_UTCR_ch3.pdf.
Structure of Court System
The Courts of Commons Pleas are the main trial courts of Pennsylvania for both civil and criminal cases. They are organized into 60 judicial districts, most of which follow the geographic boundaries of Pennsylvania’s counties. Beneath the Court of Common Pleas are “minor courts” – municipal courts in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, and magisterial district courts elsewhere – which preside over a limited category of proceedings, including civil cases where the amount-in-controversy is $12,000 or less.
The Superior Court is a court of general appellate jurisdiction.
The Commonwealth Court presides only over appeals from state agency decisions and certain cases in which the Commonwealth or another government unit is a party. The Commonwealth Court also has original jurisdiction over certain, specific matters.
Pennsylvania’s highest court is its Supreme Court. It hears appeals from both the Superior Court and the Commonwealth Court. It also has original jurisdiction in certain limited areas, and extraordinary “King’s Bench” jurisdiction to directly take over and resolve “an issue of immediate public importance” from any lower court.
The Office of Communications and Intergovernmental Relations of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (“AOPC”) fields inquiries from reporters as part of its duties as media liaison. See Office of Communications and Intergovernmental Relations, The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania, http://www.pacourts.us/judicial-administration/office-of-communications-and-intergovernmental-relations (last visited Aug. 16, 2021). In high-profile criminal trials, the AOPC has worked with local courts on issues relating to media coverage. In all cases, however, the court itself makes decisions on access issues.
Online Resource for Case Information
Dockets for matters pending in the Superior Court, Commonwealth Court, and Supreme Court, Criminal Courts of Common Pleas, and minor courts may be accessed online at the web portal for The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania: https://ujsportal.pacourts.us/CaseSearch (last visited Aug. 16, 2021). Many counties also make their Court of Common Pleas dockets for civil cases electronically available.
Decorum Orders in High-Profile Trials
In high-profile criminal trials, courts routinely implement decorum orders governing the conduct of the case and press access to the proceedings. When covering such a trial, it is advisable to inquire with the court whether such a decorum order is in place. Courts in some counties will post relevant decorum order information online.
Professionalism and respect for the proceedings should be exercised at all times when inside the courthouse. Business attire is required unless a judge approves more casual attire (after reviewing a Form 1) for the movement of cameras or other recording equipment.
Information about the structure of South Carolina courts, contact information for court personnel, rules governing the administration of justice (and practice of law), dockets for cases, and court case records can be found at https://www.sccourts.org/index.cfm.
Please remember that the inside of the courthouse is subject to government regulation of a person’s First Amendment rights and is more likely to be regulated than the area immediately outside the courthouse, such as the public sidewalk. Article 1, section 9 of the South Carolina Constitution provides “all courts shall be public . . .” but that does not mean that reasonable requests by bailiffs, clerks of court, or judges can be ignored. If courthouse or courtroom access is unreasonably denied, the affected individual should contact the South Carolina Press Association at (803) 750-9561, the author to this guide, or a licensed attorney.
The South Carolina Supreme Court has a public information office, but the lower courts do not. On the local level, contacting the presiding judicial officer’s office is typically a good first step in covering court cases.
If there is significant media interest in a particular case, it may be helpful to:
- Develop a media plan that will establish reasonable and adequate guidelines for newsgathering and dissemination;
- Cooperate with other media organizations in distributing information and seek assistance from the court PIO or local court staff;
- Lessen the burden on overworked court staff as much as possible by cooperating on pooling arrangements and list-serves;
- Be flexible about seating arrangements, including helping to arrange for an annex or overflow room if there are not enough seats in the courtroom;
- Respectfully but firmly assert the media’s right of access to proceedings and documents as necessary.
More specific guidance can be found in Rochelle L. Wilcox, When the Media Come to Town: Protocols and Practices, MLRC Bulletin, Jan. 2005, at 143. In addition, in January 2011, the MLRC Newsgathering Committee, Defense Counsel Section, published a Model Media Decorum Order for High Profile Cases & Supporting Memorandum, http://www.medialaw.org/model-briefs-a-practice-guides.
South Dakota has a two-tiered system. The circuit courts throughout the state handle all civil and criminal matters. There are no special juvenile courts or probate courts. The basic appellate step is to the South Dakota Supreme Court, which also retains original jurisdiction in a limited number of matters. The most logical contact would be the clerk’s office or the court administrator’s office. The best approach to obtain transcripts is to contact the court reporter directly.
The website www.tncourts.gov has a "Media Guide to Tennessee's Legal System" available on their website. The guide includes a short discussion of the public's right of access to court proceedings, the court's Media Guidelines Rule, tips on covering court proceedings, and overviews of the state's court system and relevant laws.
The Texas state court system has two co-equal courts atop its appellate hierarchy. The Supreme Court of Texas is the court of last resort for civil and juvenile cases, and the Court of Criminal Appeals is the court of last resort for criminal cases. In all cases except death penalty cases, which are appealed directly to the Court of Criminal Appeals from the trial level, the high courts hear appeals from the fourteen intermediate courts of appeals.
The courts of appeals have regional jurisdiction across Texas and serve as intermediate appellate courts, similar to the Circuit Courts in the federal court system.
There are two categories of courts whose decisions are appealed to the courts of appeals, the district courts and the county courts. The district courts have overlapping original jurisdiction over civil actions with the county courts for civil actions worth over $200, and additionally have jurisdiction over felony cases and juvenile matters. Some district courts are specialized for criminal or other matters. There are three types of county courts: Constitutional county courts; Statutory county courts, and Statutory probate courts. The Constitutional county courts have original jurisdiction over civil cases valued at between $200 and $10,000 ($20,000 beginning September 1, 2020), as well as jurisdiction over probate and guardianship matters, misdemeanors with jail sentences or possible fines of at least $500, and juvenile matters. The Constitutional county courts also hear de novo appeals from the local courts. The Statutory county courts have jurisdiction mirroring the Constitutional county courts, except that the courts have jurisdiction over civil cases ranging from $500 to $200,000 ($250,000 beginning September 1, 2020) or higher.
The Statutory probate courts handle probate and guardianship matters.
There are two categories of local courts: Justice of the Peace courts and the Municipal courts. The Justice of the Peace courts are not courts of record and have jurisdiction over civil actions valued at $10,000 or less, small claims, and misdemeanors that do not carry a sentence of imprisonment. The Justice courts also conduct magistrate functions. Justices of the Peace do not have to be licensed attorneys. The Municipal courts are mostly not courts of record and have jurisdiction over misdemeanors that do not carry a sentence of imprisonment, municipal ordinance criminal cases, and some limited civil jurisdiction. The Municipal courts also conduct magistrate functions.
The Texas Judicial Branch publishes a Judicial Directory every year, with periodic updates during the year, at http://www.txcourts.gov/judicial-directory/.
The Vermont Judiciary consists of an appellate court, which is the Supreme Court, and a trial court, known as the Vermont Superior Court. There are 14 units of the Superior Court, one corresponding to each county. The Superior Court has five divisions: civil, criminal, environmental, family, and probate. The Superior Court also has a Judicial Bureau, which has statewide jurisdiction over civil violations.
Additional information for various divisions of the Vermont court system is available at: https://www.vermontjudiciary.org/court-divisions.
Details regarding upcoming court hearings are available at: https://www.vermontjudiciary.org/court-hearings.
The Vermont Supreme Court issues opinions on Fridays, typically by 11 am EST. Published opinions and entry orders are available at: https://www.vermontjudiciary.org/supreme-court/published-opinions-and-entry-orders. Audio recordings of oral arguments from the past two years are available at: https://www.vermontjudiciary.org/supreme-court/audio-recordings-oral-arguments.
Civil and criminal dockets are publicly available in Vermont. However, online access is only available for civil dockets (excluding family division cases). See https://secure.vermont.gov/vtcdas/user
To obtain pleadings and orders listed on criminal or civil dockets or trial transcripts, you need to contact the appropriate unit and division of the Vermont Superior Court. Contact information for the units and divisions of the Vermont Superior Court are available at: http://www.vermontjudiciary.org/court-locations.
It is critical to get in front of any anticipated access problems. Judges appreciate being advised of access rights before making a decision on what they might otherwise perceive as a routine or noncontroversial request for closure. Moreover, as a practical matter, convincing a judge not to do something is much easier than convincing the judge to undo something he/she has already done. Accordingly, if closure or sealing motions are anticipated, a party seeking access is well advised to give notice of its desire to be heard on any such motions. An informal letter to the court, copying counsel of record, usually suffices to give notice of one’s interest in being heard on an anticipated but not yet filed motion to restrict public access.
A party seeking to attend the trial of a high profile matter and to access trial exhibits should contact the trial court in advance to determine if any procedures have been adopted to facilitate public access, such as providing an extra room in the courthouse for overflow attendees to view the trial by closed-circuit video, and for timely release of trial exhibits. A letter to the court, copying counsel of record, should suffice for this initial inquiry. The inquiry will often prompt the court to adopt procedures. Trial courts have discretion over the extent to which they must accommodate public access at trial.
The right of access is qualified, not absolute. Therefore, third-parties are well-advised not to adopt a demanding or overbearing approach to access, but to request it in a civil and professional manner that avoids undue disruption and interference with the underlying proceeding. Most Virginia judges understand and appreciate the value of public access. However, no judge appreciates discourteous and disruptive behavior by third-party intervenors, and such behavior will foreclose the potential for accommodations not required to protect the public’s right of access.
Conferring with the litigants before intervening is vital, as it may reveal a meritorious basis for closure not apparent from the record. Additionally, to the extent an agreement can be reached, it will bolster arguments for access.
Attempts to obtain access to proceeding and records in juvenile and domestic relations (“JDR”) courts can be frustrating. Almost all JDR court proceedings and records are, by law, closed. Consequently, JDR court judges are not accustomed to requests for public access, and often are not familiar with the provision of the Virginia Code permitting access to proceedings involving adults or juveniles over fourteen charged with felony-level offenses. Some JDR court judges seemingly refuse to accept the Virginia General Assembly’s authority to allow access to juvenile proceedings under any circumstances. Resiliency, professionalism and courtesy are all helpful qualities when seeking access to JDR proceedings.
Washington was one of the first judiciaries in the country to permit broadcasting of state court proceedings. Camera access is presumptively allowed, and fairly routine in larger jurisdictions. Reporters should contact the courtroom bailiff to make their “GR 16 request,” preferably with as much advance notice as possible, so that any legal or logistical concerns can be worked out ahead of time.
The Bench-Bar-Press Committee of Washington was formed in 1963 and has served as a national model for fostering working relationships and mutual understanding among judges, lawyers and journalists regarding access issues. The committee has developed a set of voluntary “Bench-Bar-Press Principles,” which are not binding, but which provide practical guidance to litigants, judges, and the press regarding news coverage of trials and judicial proceedings. A subcommittee, known as the “Fire Brigade,” is available to address or mediate access issues, and can be a useful informal resource for journalists facing barriers to access. Information about these resources is available through the Bench-Bar-Press Committee website, http://www.courts.wa.gov/committee/?fa=committee.home&committee_id=77.
The West Virginia court system has four levels. Lower Courts, W. Va. Judiciary, http://www.courtswv.gov/lower-courts/index.html. Magistrate courts are on the bottom, or first level, and hear primarily small claims and preliminary criminal matters. Magistrate Courts – Trial Courts of Limited Jurisdiction, W. Va. Judiciary, http://www.courtswv.gov/lower-courts/magistrate-courts.html. Family courts are on the next level. Family Courts, W. Va. Judiciary, http://www.courtswv.gov/lower-courts/family-courts.html. Circuit courts are trial courts that have jurisdiction over most criminal and civil actions and hear appeals from magistrate and family courts, and from administrative agencies. Circuit Courts, W. Va. Judiciary, http://www.courtswv.gov/lower-courts/circuit-courts.html. The Supreme Court of Appeals is the court of last resort in West Virginia. Supreme Court of Appeals, W. Va. Judiciary, http://www.courtswv.gov/supreme-court/index.html. The Supreme Court of Appeals provides a full review and a decision on the merits in all properly prepared and filed appeals. Id.
The website www.courtswv.gov contains helpful information on all West Virginia courts. Of particular interest to the media is the page http://www.courtswv.gov/public-resources/press-page.html that includes media contact information, court information by county, press releases, publications and other helpful information. News & Publications, W. Va. Judiciary, http://www.courtswv.gov/public-resources/press-page.html. The Supreme Court of Appeals has a PIO office, but the lower courts do not. On the local level, contacting the presiding judicial officer’s office is typically a good first step in covering court cases.
If there is significant media interest in a particular case, it may be helpful to:
- Develop a media plan that will establish reasonable and adequate guidelines for newsgathering and dissemination;
- Cooperate with other media organizations in distributing information and seek assistance from the court PIO or local court staff;
- Lessen the burden on overworked court staff as much as possible by cooperating on pooling arrangements and list-serves;
- Respectfully but firmly assert the media’s right of access to proceedings and documents as necessary.
More specific guidance can be found in Rochelle L. Wilcox, When the Media Come to Town: Protocols and Practices 143 (MLRC Bulletin, Jan. 2005). In addition, in January 2011, the MLRC Newsgathering Committee, Defense Counsel Section, published a Model Media Decorum Order for High Profile Cases & Supporting Memorandum, http://www.medialaw.org/model-briefs-a-practice-guides.
Each of Wisconsin’s 72 counties has its own circuit or trial court with at least one judge. Wis. Stat. § 753.06; see also Wis. Stat. § 753.03:
The circuit courts have power to hear and determine, within their respective circuits, all civil and criminal actions and proceedings unless exclusive jurisdiction is given to some other court; and they have all the powers, according to the usage of courts of law and equity, necessary to the full and complete jurisdiction of the causes and parties and the full and complete administration of justice, and to carry into effect their judgments, orders and other determinations, subject to review by the court of appeals or the supreme court as provided by law.
Wisconsin has a single, unified court of appeals with four geographic districts. Wis. Stat. § 752.11; see also Wis. Stat. § 752.31(1) (“Except as otherwise provided in this action, the court of appeals shall sit in panels of three judges to dispose of cases on their merits.”); Wis. Stat. § 808.03:
(1) APPEALS AS OF RIGHT. A final judgment or a final order of a circuit court may be appealed as a matter of right to the court of appeals unless otherwise expressly provided by law. A final judgment or final order is a judgment, order or disposition that disposes of the entire matter in litigation as to one or more parties, whether rendered in an action or special proceeding ….
(2) APPEALS BY PERMISSION. A judgment or order not appealable as a matter or right under sub. (1) may be appealed to the court of appeals in advance of a final judgment or order upon leave granted by the court ….
Wisconsin has a single supreme court with seven justices. Wis. Const. art VII, § 4; see also Wis. Stat. § 808.10(1): "A decision of the court of appeals is reviewable by the supreme court only upon a petition for review granted by the supreme court."
The Wisconsin Supreme Court also may hear original actions, pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 809.70, though it is exceptionally rare. Finally, the supreme court may directly review the judgment or order of a trial court either when the court of appeals certifies the appeal to the supreme court, pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 809.61, or when a party petitions to bypass the court of appeals, pursuant to Wis. Stat. § 809.60.
All Wisconsin judges are elected in Spring, non‑partisan elections. If a judge at any level retires or passes away during her term, the Governor has the right to appoint a new judge until there is time for an election.
The Director of State Courts is the administrative head of the Wisconsin court system. His offices are in Madison, in the same suite as the administrative staff for the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals. He can be reached at (608) 266‑6820. The website for Wisconsin’s courts is www.wicourts.gov. The dockets for all Wisconsin state court cases are available at wcca.wicourts.gov. Only participants in the actions can see pleadings on that site. Members of the news media and the public may request copies of pleadings from the clerk of the specific court where the case is venued. Transcripts of proceedings are available for a fee from each judge’s court reporter.
Wyoming state courts include circuit courts, district courts and the Wyoming Supreme Court. There are also municipal courts. The circuit courts have jurisdiction in civil matters with alleged damages up to $50,000. The circuit courts also conduct criminal arraignments and preliminary hearings.
Transcripts may be obtained from the court’s official reporter. The Wyoming State Bar has the contact information for the court reporters for each court. The reporters may also be contacted via the specific court office.
Cell phones are not allowed in most Wyoming courtrooms. Neither is eating or drinking. Computers may be allowed if not disruptive to the proceedings.