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Strict "no cameras" policy violates Michigan judge's duty

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Strict "no cameras" policy violates Michigan judge's duty07/01/96 MICHIGAN--A trial court judge's policy of refusing all camera requests violated his…

Strict “no cameras” policy violates Michigan judge’s duty

07/01/96

MICHIGAN–A trial court judge’s policy of refusing all camera requests violated his clear legal duty to allow media coverage of trials, the Michigan Court of Appeals in Detroit found in mid-May.

Judge David Martin Bradfield of the Michigan District Court in Detroit repeatedly denied attempts by the Detroit Free Press to photograph courtroom proceedings. Bradfield had refused five requests for access to the courtroom over a six-month period, and had stated on the record his policy never to allow cameras in his courtroom.

In response to Bradfield’s order, the Free Press brought suit in Wayne County Circuit Court in Detroit to force Bradfield to admit photographers. The circuit court issued an order stating that Bradfield acted improperly, noting that a Michigan Supreme Court Administrative Order permits film or electronic media coverage of court proceedings, subject to judicial discretion and limitations on equipment and personnel.

Bradfield then created “special court rules for the press” which permitted one camera and one audio system in the courtroom.

The newspaper sued again, and the circuit court issued a supplemental order, vacating the special rules and ordering Bradfield to permit all requests for electronic media coverage of court proceedings. Bradfield then appealed the case to the Court of Appeals.

The appeals court held that the circuit court’s initial order was proper, and that the high court’s administrative order does not allow a blanket exclusion of media coverage. The court also found that the circuit court’s supplemental order removing Bradfield’s discretion to refuse a camera request in any situation was overly broad and exceeded the dictates of the administrative order. (Detroit Free Press v. 36th District Judge; Media Counsel: Herschel Fink, Detroit)