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Judges and prosecutors should accommodate press access to the courts

Criminal lawyer on the need for judges and prosecutors not to thwart press access to the courts

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The New York Times‘s Shaila Dewan recently depicted the sad circumstances, at best, about judicial and prosecutorial efforts to thwart journalists’ access to and coverage of court actions.

Dewan visited an Alabama courthouse where she says many defendants plead guilty when they cannot afford the diversion program. As she visited rural towns’s courthouses: “In one town I visited, the courtroom was actually closed to the public, and I had to get special permission to be present. In another town… a judge sent police officers to eject us from the courthouse.”

Around the time Dewan’s photographer was stopped for an alleged turn signal violation with police dogs next called in, she was offered to speak with the police chief. She received a seemingly sympathetic ear: “Chief Steve Parrish … gave me the impression that, since he had taken charge in May 2015, he had been battling to make the department less vindictive and more professional.”

Dewan and a photographer went to an Alabama town to cover a capital murder trial. After Dewan emailed the prosecutor that there would be a photographer present, offering a more formal photographic session (with no reply) the photographer “began to shoot [prosecutor] Valeska in the hall during a break, [Valeska]  asked the sheriff to confiscate the camera and delete the picture.”

About the capital murder trial, Dewan reports the courtroom walls being full of portraits of white men, where the defendant and most of the witnesses were black. Sadly, we also have at least some courtrooms and courtroom hallways in Virginia lined with portraits and pictures of white men only, and, for starters, with a confederate soldier statue greeting visitors to the Loudoun County courthouse, offset only by a small sidewalk tile many yards away, honoring Martin Luther King, Jr.

These are but the highlights of Shaila Dewan’s article.