Ga. Supreme Court: Public has no right to copy court recordings

The public has no right to copy court recordings, according to an Oct. 30 ruling by the Georgia Supreme Court. The Court’s position is opposed by the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

As podcasts grow into an increasingly powerful form of communication, courts are regularly facing requests for the audio recordings of criminal cases. The foundation believes that an audio recording of a court proceeding is a court record subject to state Open Records laws, and that the public and media should be able to obtain a copy.

In a statement following the state Supreme Court’s ruling, the foundation said, “In criminal cases, the court reporters who make the audio recordings are typically paid with taxpayer dollars. The public should get the benefit of that expenditure. The Supreme Court could require that the audio recordings be filed with the trial court. Then, under the logic of the Court’s decision, the public and press would be able to obtain copies of them.”

The makers of the popular true-crime podcast “Undisclosed” brought the case heard by the Court. They were attempting to acquire copies of audio recordings from a murder trial in Northwest Georgia.

Here is a sampling of press coverage of the court’s decision:

 

 

Special rate for 2017 Weltner Banquet

Join us Oct. 19 to celebrate and support the public’s right to know.

We appreciate your support of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s open government mission. To show our appreciation, we’re inviting you to join us Oct. 19 at the 2017 Weltner Freedom of Information Award Banquet at a special Friends of the First Amendment rate of $100 — a 60 percent discount off our regular individual ticket rate.

It’s unusual for us to offer a special rate for individual tickets to our Weltner Banquet, the foundation’s most important fundraising event. But as we mark the banquet’s 16th anniversary this year, the time is right. Over the past two years, and particularly in just the last few months, we’ve drawn interest from many more individual supporters. We want to make it possible for anyone who believes in our mission to join us for this annual celebration of open government successes — and to invest in our ongoing fight for government transparency and free speech.

You’ll find our Oct. 19 banquet inspiring. We are presenting the 2017 Weltner Award to the Carter Center’s Global Access to Information Program. Program Director Laura Neuman, our keynote speaker, will tell us how access to public information is transforming citizens’ lives worldwide. She will be introduced by Carter Center Chief Executive Officer Mary Ann Peters, former U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh.

We’re also honoring the late Fulton County Superior Court Judge Stephanie B. Manis with our Open Government Hero Award. Manis, who died in December, was an unwavering advocate of open records and open meetings and proceedings during her years in the Office of the Georgia Attorney General and on the bench. U.S. District Judge Mark Cohen will offer a tribute to Manis, his longtime friend and former colleague.

The banquet takes place at 6:30 p.m., Oct. 19, at the Silverbell Pavilion of the Emory Conference Center in Atlanta. Citizens, elected officials, journalists, judges, attorneys, members of the foundation’s board of directors and other First Amendment advocates will be there to celebrate and support the foundation’s crucial and narrow mission. The Georgia First Amendment Foundation is the state’s only organization completely committed to the public’s right to know.

Secure your seat by buying a Weltner Banquet ticket today. Or, if you can’t join us at the event, make a donation to support our open government mission. We cannot do this important work without you.

For information about becoming a 2017 Weltner sponsor, please call Lenora Kopkin 678-395-3618 or email info@gfaf.org.

SAVE THE DATE: Weltner Freedom of Information Award Banquet, Oct. 19

Event to honor the Carter Center’s Global Access to Information Program and the late Judge Stephanie B. Manis of Fulton County Superior Court.

The Carter Center’s Global Access to Information Program works to improve governance and transform citizens’ lives worldwide by providing governments with actionable advice and technical assistance that increase transparency and help citizens exercise their fundamental right to information. The Georgia First Amendment Foundation is honoring that important work by naming the Atlanta-based program as recipient of the 2017 Charles L. Weltner Freedom of Information Award.

The foundation also is honoring the late Fulton County Superior Court Judge Stephanie B. Manis with its Open Government Hero Award. Manis, who died in December, was an unwavering advocate of open records and open meetings during her years in the Office of the Georgia Attorney General and on the bench.

Both awards will be presented during the foundation’s annual Weltner evening banquet on Oct. 19 at the Emory Conference Center in Atlanta.

Laura Neuman, director of the Carter Center’s Global Access to Information Program, will accept the Weltner Freedom of Information Award and serve as the event’s keynote speaker. Manis’ family will accept the Open Government Hero Award in her honor.

The Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s Freedom of Information Award is named for Charles L. Weltner, a former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court who championed freedom of information and ethics in state government. The annual Weltner Banquet provides financial support for the foundation’s narrow and essential mission: fighting for free speech, government transparency and access to public information in Georgia.

For information about becoming a 2017 banquet sponsor, please email info@gfaf.org.

Invest in the First Amendment—become a Weltner Banquet sponsor today

Reserve space now for the Weltner Freedom of Information Award Banquet, Oct. 19.

The Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s annual Weltner Banquet is the greatest source of financial support for our narrow and essential mission: fighting for free speech, government transparency and access to public information in Georgia.

This year’s event, scheduled at 6:30 p.m., Oct. 19, at the Silverbell Pavilion of the Emory Conference Center in Atlanta, will honor the Carter Center’s Global Access to Information Program and the late Judge Stephanie B. Manis of Fulton County Superior Court.

Welter sponsorships are at four levels:

  • Platinum—at least 8 tickets with preferred VIP seating for the dinner, premium recognition as a host, including signage and a full page in the program; all benefits of being an institutional GFAF member, including legislative updates and one complimentary open government workshop for your organization or company, $10,000.
  • Gold—8 tickets with preferred VIP seating for the dinner, premium recognition as a host, including signage and a full page in the program, $5,000.
  • Silver—6 tickets for the dinner, recognition and signage, and a half-page in the program, $2,500.
  • Bronze—4 tickets for the dinner, recognition and signage and a quarter-page in the program, $1,500.

For information about becoming a 2017 Weltner sponsor, please call Lenora Kopkin 678-395-3618 or email info@gfaf.org.

The Weltner Banquet and the foundation’s annual Freedom of Information Award are named for Charles L. Weltner, a former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court who championed freedom of information and ethics in state government. Honorees reflect his commitment to open, transparent government.

The 2017 Weltner Award honoree is the Carter Center’s Global Access to Information Program, which works to improve governance and transform citizens’ lives worldwide by providing governments with actionable advice and technical assistance that increase transparency and help citizens exercise their fundamental right to information.

The foundation also is honoring the late Fulton County Superior Court Judge Stephanie B. Manis with its Open Government Hero Award. Manis, who died in December, was an unwavering advocate of open records and open meetings during her years in the Office of the Georgia Attorney General and on the bench.

Both awards will be presented during the Weltner Banquet. Laura Neuman, director of the Carter Center’s Global Access to Information Program, will accept the Weltner Freedom of Information Award and serve as the event’s keynote speaker. Manis’ family will accept the Open Government Hero Award in her honor.

Superior Court judges approve rule change that narrows electronics use in courtrooms

Georgia Supreme Court still has say over whether change to ‘Rule 22’ will take effect.

The Council of Superior Court Judges of Georgia has approved a change that would keep existing protocols for news cameras in courtrooms, but make it harder to type, text and tweet during proceedings.

At a Wednesday meeting on St. Simons Island, the council voted to change the so-called “Rule 22” to presumptively restrict the use of laptop computers, smartphones and other portable electronics in Superior Court courtrooms statewide. The rule change would create a less welcoming environment for anyone, other than a lawyer, who wants to use phones or other electronic devices in the courtroom — even if the devices would not disrupt proceedings.

To be clear: The rule change would not alter how news cameras may be used in Superior Court. To shoot video today, a journalist must request permission under the existing Rule 22, which covers electronic and photographic recording of judicial proceedings. What would change for journalists — and citizens — is the ability to use an electronic device to take notes, send updates or even look at emails without first obtaining judicial permission.

“The new rule ostensibly recognizes changes in technology that could jeopardize the fairness of judicial proceedings, but in reality it just makes the courts less open,” reported The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Chris Joyner.

But, as Joyner wrote, the rule change isn’t a done deal. The Georgia Supreme Court still must approve the rule change and has the authority to “change the rule or send it back,” Jane Hansen, spokeswoman for the state’s high court, told the AJC. The process doesn’t have a firm timeline. “It will be over when this court says, ‘Here’s the rule,’” Hansen said.

Rule 22 was put in place in 1985, when Georgia was at the forefront of efforts to make court proceedings and records more open to the public. Back then, Rule 22 was hailed as a model for how to encourage effective radio and television coverage of state proceedings. But the rule was last updated decades ago, before technology advancements led to the development of smartphones and other camera-equipped portable electronic devices now in the hands of most journalists and citizens.

The Georgia First Amendment Foundation opposes the Council of Superior Court Judges’ rule change. In June, the foundation submitted an alternative proposal that would update the rule but not complicate citizen access to courtrooms. On Monday, foundation board member Hyde Post attended a Council of Superior Court Judges committee meeting in St. Simons to explain the foundation’s concerns. He argued in favor of the presumption that silent use of electronic devices should be permitted in Georgia Superior Court courtrooms.

As the state Supreme Court evaluates the change to Rule 22, the foundation will continue to advocate for unimpeded public access to Georgia courtrooms and proceedings.

Update: Proposed rule change could restrict access to Georgia courts

Council of Superior Court Judges to vote by Wednesday on whether to curb electronics in courtrooms.

Georgia courts are one step closer to becoming less accessible to the public.

On Monday, at a meeting on St. Simons Island, members of the uniform rules committee of a state judicial council voted to embrace rule changes that would presumptively restrict the use of laptop computers, smartphones and other portable electronic devices in courtrooms statewide.

The likely effect: a less welcoming environment for anyone, other than a lawyer, who wants to use phones or other electronic devices in the courtroom — even if the devices would not disrupt proceedings.

The proposed change to the so-called “Rule 22” is expected to go before the full Council of Superior Court Judges of Georgia by Wednesday for a final vote, according to council staff. Approval is anticipated.

Rule 22 covers electronic and photographic recording of judicial proceedings. It was enacted in 1985, when Georgia was at the forefront of efforts to make court proceedings and records more open to the public. Back then, Rule 22 was hailed as a model for how to encourage effective radio and television coverage of state proceedings. But the rule was last updated decades ago, before technology advancements led to the development of smartphones and other camera-equipped portable electronic devices now in the hands of most citizens.

In seeking to update the rule, the council has said it aims to establish a procedure for all citizens, not just the media, to request permission to record judicial proceedings. But some of the proposed changes to Rule 22 would take Georgia courts in the other direction. For example, if revised as proposed, the rule would presumptively ban non-lawyers from using a computer to take notes or to silently send and receive texts or emails in the courtroom.

The existing practice in Georgia and other states encourages judges to manage proceedings in ways that best serve the public interest and open government. In a number of states silent and non-disruptive use of electronic devices in courtrooms is expressly permitted.

In June, the Georgia First Amendment Foundation submitted an alternative proposal that would update the rule but not complicate citizen access to courtrooms. At Monday’s meeting, foundation board member Hyde Post explained the foundation’s concerns about the proposed rule changes and argued in favor of the presumption that silent use of electronic devices should be permitted.

“In other states, they have accepted evolving communications technology as a given,” Post said. “They have suggested that to try and ban electronics use wastes a lot of the courts’ energy on policing and ultimately will fail as policy. Instead, judges in these states, like Utah, start with the premise that a person should be permitted to silently use an electronic device in the courtroom. If a judge perceives a problem, the judge has the authority to restrict that usage if he or she deems it would disrupt the proceedings, interfere with administration of justice, cause security problems and so forth.”

Following this model, under the foundation’s proposal, judges could make exceptions, but only “as appropriate to maintain safety, decorum and order, and protect the integrity of the proceedings.” The judge would be required to “bear in mind the state’s longstanding policy favoring open judicial proceedings and anticipate that reporters and other public observers seated in the courtroom may properly use such devices to prepare and post online accounts and commentary during the proceedings.”

Several judges at the committee hearing expressed particular concern about citizens’ smartphone use in the courtroom. Judges recounted anecdotes in which gang members filmed witnesses in court. The videos were posted online and those witnesses were threatened or assaulted, the judges said.

Committee members contended that a presumptive ban on the use of electronic devices would enable better management of courtrooms. If someone wanted to bring a laptop or other electronic device to use in the courtroom, they might be permitted to use it, but they would need to file a Rule 22 request first.

Media contact:

Kathy Brister, board member, Georgia First Amendment Foundation

kathybrister@yahoo.com / 404-394-6103

Proposed rule change could restrict access to Georgia courts

Judicial council to meet Monday on citizen use of electronics in courtrooms.

July 20, 2017—A statewide judicial council is scheduled to meet Monday to consider a rule change that could result in less public access to courtrooms.

The Council of Superior Court Judges of Georgia is meeting on St. Simons Island to evaluate proposed amendments to so-called “Rule 22.”

No texts or emails in Georgia courtrooms?

Rule 22 — officially “Uniform Superior Court Rule 22: Electronic and Photographic Recording of Judicial Proceedings”— was enacted in 1985, when Georgia was at the forefront of efforts to make court proceedings and records more open to the public.

Back then, Rule 22 was hailed as a model for how to encourage effective radio and television coverage of state proceedings. But the rule was last updated decades ago, before technology advancements led to the development of smartphones and other camera-equipped portable electronic devices now in the hands of most citizens.

In seeking to update the rule, the council has said it aims to establish a procedure for all citizens, not just the media, to request permission to record judicial proceedings. But some of the proposed changes to Rule 22 would take Georgia courts in the other direction, making them less welcoming to the public by restricting anyone other than lawyers from using phones or other electronic devices in the courtroom, even if the devices would not disrupt proceedings. For example, if revised as proposed, the rule would ban non-lawyers from using a computer to take notes or to silently send and receive texts or emails in the courtroom.

That’s contrary to the existing practice in Georgia and other states of encouraging judges to manage proceedings in ways that best serve the public interest and open government. In a number of states silent and non-disruptive use of electronic devices in courtrooms is expressly permitted.

In June, the Georgia First Amendment Foundation submitted an alternative proposal that would update the rule but not deter citizen access to courtrooms. Under the foundation’s proposal, silent use of portable electronic devices inside a courtroom would be presumptively permitted.

Judges could make exceptions, but only “as appropriate to maintain safety, decorum and order, and protect the integrity of the proceedings.” The judge would be required to “bear in mind the state’s longstanding policy favoring open judicial proceedings and anticipate that reporters and other public observers seated in the courtroom may properly use such devices to prepare and post online accounts and commentary during the proceedings.”

In submitting the foundation’s proposal, foundation board member and First Amendment attorney Peter Canfield told the council that the alternative proposal would make the rules “clearer and simpler” and ensure that they “serve, rather than conflict with, the state’s strong public policy in favor of open government.”

Media contact:

Kathy Brister, board member, Georgia First Amendment Foundation

kathybrister@yahoo.com / 404-394-6103

 

Judge Marvin Shoob, 2007 Weltner Award honoree, dies at 94

 

Judge Marvin Shoob

U.S. District Judge Marvin Shoob, who “made the Constitution a reality” in his rulings on Cuban refugees, the Ten Commandments, local jails and hundreds of other cases, has died at age 94. Read more from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Shoob—whose fierce willingness to address institutional injustices during more than 36 years on the federal bench in Atlanta stemmed from a seminal experience as a young soldier in World War II—died Monday. Read more from the Daily Report.

In 2007, Shoob’s commitment to constitutional rights was honored by the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. He received our annual Freedom of Information Award named for the late Charles L. Weltner, a former chief justice of the Georgia Supreme Court who championed freedom of information and ethics in state government.

Georgia attorney general urges high court to reverse public hospital records closure

Saying “open government is essential to a free, open and democratic society,” state Attorney General Chris Carr urged the Georgia Supreme Court to reverse a 2016 Georgia Court of Appeals decision that allowed closure of records from privately administered public hospitals.

The attorney general’s opinion had been requested by the Court in a case that pits Atlanta’s Northside Hospital against government transparency advocates, including the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. After hearing oral argument from the parties in mid-April, the Court asked Carr to weigh in.

In a brief, filed with the Court in late May, Carr argued that under the Georgia Open Records Act, “a private person or entity has an implied contractual obligation to produce any non-exempt record that it prepared, maintained or received in the performance of any service or function ‘for or on behalf of’ an agency.” The Court of Appeals decision that Carr wants reversed adopted a more restrictive test.

Read a short history of the case and check out these media reports of Carr’s opinion:

 

Ga. high court asks Attorney General Carr’s opinion on access to public hospital records

The Georgia Supreme Court has asked Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr to weigh in on whether the public should continue to have access to records of public hospitals, like Atlanta-based Northside, that are restructured to be operated by nonprofits.

The Georgia First Amendment Foundation recently argued before the Georgia Supreme Court that business records at Atlanta’s Northside Hospital should be open to public inspection.

The public’s right to access such records has been recognized since 1995. But a recent challenge by Northside cast doubt on that precedent, and, after hearing oral argument from the parties in mid-April, the state Supreme Court asked Carr for his views.

Here’s the history. In 1995, the Georgia Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a request by the Marietta Daily Journal for access to the records and meetings of privately restructured public hospitals in Cobb, Cherokee, Douglas and Paulding counties Then-attorney general Michael Bowers strongly supported public access, arguing in a friend of the court brief that “[t]hose who effectively control the functions or the assets of public agencies which are subject to the open government statutes are themselves subject to these same laws.”

The Georgia First Amendment Foundation, then less than a year old, weighed in as well, contending “the delegation of public responsibilities to private entities cannot operate to shroud the public’s window on their execution.”

GFAF continues to strongly believe that state law demands the operation of public assets like Northside Hospital be subject to public oversight, as it argued in a friend of the court brief filed with the Georgia Supreme Court in the Northside case in April.

The case will have an impact on Georgians’ ability to access records of public hospitals operated by nonprofits throughout the state.

Read recent media coverage of the case: