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Public has no guaranteed right to tape open meetings

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NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   NEW JERSEY   ·   Broadcasting   ·   Nov. 30, 2005

NEWS MEDIA UPDATE   ·   NEW JERSEY   ·   Broadcasting   ·   Nov. 30, 2005

Public has no guaranteed right to tape open meetings

  • The public does not have an automatic right to videotape open government meetings, a state appeals court ruled in the case of a man who claimed he was wrongfully arrested for taping a town council meeting.

Nov. 30, 2005  ·   No absolute right exists allowing the public to videotape open government meetings, a New Jersey appeals court ruled Nov. 23, upholding the dismissal of a Camden County man’s wrongful arrest claim for taping a town council meeting in 2000.

A three-judge panel unanimously dismissed the lawsuit filed by Robert Wayne Tarus of Camden County, who was arrested for attempting to videotape two Pine Hill Borough Council meetings in 2000 without all of the parties’ consent.

The court found that “the right to videotape public proceedings is subject to reasonable government restrictions,” and that there is nothing in New Jersey common law that grants the public an absolute right to freely tape meetings.

“An absolute right has never been recognized,” Judge Anthony Parrillo wrote for state Superior Court’s Appellate Division.

The court also ruled that because Tarus was not denied attendance at the meeting or the opportunity to speak, his First Amendment rights were not violated.

“There has been no showing in the case that the council’s temporary and limited prohibition on videotaping meaningfully interfered with [Tarus’] and the public’s ability to inform themselves of the proceedings,” Parrillo wrote.

Tarus claimed that his rights were violated and that he was wrongfully arrested when he was taken into police custody at a Pine Hill Borough Council meeting in September 2000 after failing to turn his video camera off at the request of several members of the audience. Before his arrest, Tarus had openly taped a June meeting without any ramifications since no one objected, court documents show. When he returned that September, Tarus failed to seek the permission of those attending to tape.

The second time, several members of the audience asked to not be filmed. Former Pine Hill Mayor Leslie Gallagher asked Tarus three times to stop filming and to leave his equipment outside, court documents show.

Tarus refused, citing a 1984 New Jersey appellate court ruling that granted the Maurice River teachers union the right to videotape a school board meeting. Tarus continued to tape and told the police chief he would stop only if arrested, according to court documents.

Police Chief John Welker turned off Tarus’ camera and following the third refusal from Tarus, charged him with disorderly conduct.

He was arrested again the following month, when he returned to the council meeting and began videotaping the proceedings, court documents show.

A municipal judge ruled in favor of Tarus, saying he had a right to tape the public meetings.

Tarus then sued the Borough of Pine Hill and its officials, saying he was arrested without probable cause, that he was maliciously prosecuted and his civil rights were violated. A federal judge dismissed his claim, and the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia (3rd Cir.) upheld the dismissal.

Tarus filed a separate complaint with Camden County Superior Court, but the judge ruled against him, saying there was no constitutional right to videotape a government meeting.

(Tarus v. Borough of Pine Hill; Counsel: Thomas Bruno II, Abramson & Denenberg, P.C., Philadelphia, Pa.)KT

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