A group of journalists have filed a federal lawsuit to call into question a Maryland law that forbids broadcasting criminal trials. They claim that the rule goes against their First Amendment rights.
“Although they hope to use Maryland’s court recordings for different purposes — some for journalistic ends, some for civic education, and some for political advocacy — all of them plan to use the recordings for a common goal: to promote democratic accountability within our criminal-justice system,” the lawsuit says.
Open Justice Baltimore and the Baltimore Action Legal Team want to use video recordings to increase the transparency of the legal process in Baltimore, including putting the recordings on their websites, podcasts, and social media accounts, and playing them at meetings.
Journalists Brandon Soderberg and Baynard Woods want to include audio and video recordings of trials in their upcoming documentary and other reportings on the Gun Trace Task Force.
However, the law prevents them from “broadcasting any criminal matter, including a trial, hearing, motion, or argument, that is held in trial court,” and those who violate the law can be held in contempt of court.
Lawyers for the group wrote letters to Administrative Judge W. Michel Pierson, asking him to name “state interest[s] of the highest order,” — the burden established in a 1979 federal ruling — to justify not using the recordings.
The lawsuit claimed that the state hasn’t been able to identify “a governmental interest sufficient to justify its blanket ban on broadcasting publicly available court recordings.”
“People who lawfully obtain copies of such recordings, therefore, cannot constitutionally be punished for disseminating them — including via broadcast,” the lawsuit said.