Make plans to attend Ga. Bar Media & Judiciary Conference Feb. 22, 2019

Register now for the 28th Annual Georgia Bar Media & Judiciary Conference, scheduled 9 a.m. to 5 pm. on Friday, Feb. 22, 2019, at the State Bar of Georgia Conference Center in downtown Atlanta.

Sessions will explore emerging First Amendment issues in the courts, in the media and in government. The conference is co-sponsored by the Georgia First Amendment Foundation and its board members play a key role organizing the event.

For the first time in Georgia, Washington, D.C.’s Holocaust Museum will present “Law, Justice and the Holocaust,” a program that’s captivated audiences across 40 states for more than a decade.

Also on the schedule:

  • New tests for the media: Keeping public trust in a polarized world
  • City of Atlanta transparency
  • New rules for public access to the courts
  • Podcasting Georgia’s civil rights past
  • Civility and free speech on college campuses
  • WABE’s “Political Breakfast,” live and on the record
  • Back by popular demand, the day-long event will wrap up with a reception.

The public is welcome. Advance registration is $250 for lawyers seeking CLE credit and $30 for everyone else. The cost includes lunch and parking. Fees increase $100 on the day of the conference.

REGISTER NOW

Ga. Supreme Court order allows judicial discretion over electronics in courtrooms

High court decision keeps current recording rules in place and authorizes trial judges to permit use of electronic devices for non-recording uses.

The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday approved a rule change that would generally keep existing protocols in place for audio and video recording in courtrooms, as well as give judges discretion about whether people can use electronic devices to type and text in their courtrooms.

The Court’s order, which takes effect May 1, keeps the so-called Rule 22 largely the same for professional media and citizens using cameras in courtrooms. As happens today, journalists and members of the public must request permission to record or photograph judicial proceedings. A judge must provide detailed rationale for denying cameras in the courtroom — and only after holding a hearing on the issue.

The new rule gives a judge leeway to let citizens use phones, computers and tablets in the courtroom to type and text, but the judge has to specifically permit it — orally, in writing or by posting such a policy in their courtroom. Otherwise, the public has to keep electronic devices turned off in the courtroom.

At the same time, the rule gives attorneys appearing before the court wide latitude to use electronic devices for everything from audio and video recordings to taking notes. A lawyer must announce to the courtroom that a recording is being made, and the recording can only be used afterward for legal proceedings.

“On the whole, the new Rule 22 aligns with the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s request that courtrooms in the state remain open to the public,” said Richard Griffiths, president of the foundation’s board of directors.

“We wish the rule had embraced a system that automatically allowed courtroom observers to type and text in courtrooms in a non-disruptive way, but the foundation appreciates the Supreme Court’s decision to reject the outright ban that had been proposed by others,” Griffiths said. “The new rule makes clear that individual judges may routinely allow this use of technology in their courtrooms. That’s a step in the right direction.”

Georgia’s 2017 right-to-know milestones

The public’s right to know in Georgia ended 2017 with a mixed scorecard.

On the plus side, the state’s high court affirmed that Northside Hospital and others similarly organized are subject to open records laws. Georgia senators decided to join their House counterparts, allowing video transmissions of committee meetings for the first time, starting in 2018.

But 2017 also had some setbacks. A jury found a citizen journalist guilty of a misdemeanor for an incident that arose from her recording of a political rally. A court ruled that unfiled court reporter recordings are not public records, a setback for legal affairs podcasts. And a remake of the state’s judicial watchdog appears to leave it less transparent, not more open, as legislators had promised.

Our year in review includes a detailed look at events that had an impact on public access and government transparency statewide, and how the Georgia First Amendment Foundation fought for citizens’ right to know.

January

February-March

  • Throughout the General Assembly session, the foundation encourages lawmakers to tread lightly on Georgians’ rights to access government records, meetings and proceedings and to practice free speech. The foundation engages with lawmakers on legislative proposals related to electronic filing of court records; redaction of portions of state Division of Family and Children Services records; reconfiguration of the Judicial Qualifications Commission; drone regulations; and so-called “upskirting” restrictions. (For a full recap, check out our post-session Legislative Watch.)

April

  • Georgia House of Representatives sends a remake of the Judicial Qualifications Commission to the governor to sign. Supporters say the revamp increases transparency and reins in an overly aggressive judicial watchdog. Critics say giving lawmakers control over the commission will politicize it.
  • The Atlanta Press Club honors longtime foundation Executive Director Hollie Manheimer with its Impact Award.

May

June

July

  • The Judicial Qualifications Commission remake becomes state law, as does new guidance for drone use and other measures passed by the 2017 General Assembly.

September

  • The newly remade Judicial Qualifications Commission dismisses a case against a Georgia judge whose actions led to jailing of the Fannin Focus publisher and his lawyer. The commission discharged the complaints after an investigation that did not include contacting those who filed complaints.

October

  • The state Senate agrees to permit video transmission of its committee hearings.
  • The foundation honors The Carter Center’s Global Access to Information Program and the late Fulton County Superior Court Judge Stephanie B. Manis at its 2017 Weltner Banquet.
  • A case involving the Undisclosed true-crime podcast ends with a Georgia Supreme Court ruling that unfiled court reporter recordings are not public records. The foundation opposes the Court’s position and suggests an alternative approach.

November

  • The Georgia Supreme Court affirms government transparency laws apply to Northside Hospital in a case the foundation closely watched and weighed in on through court filings. The ruling supports the principle that publicly created institutions are bound by state open records laws, even if they reorganize as nonprofits. In an indication of the statewide impact, the Savannah Morning News soon cites the ruling in its ongoing efforts to get records from a local hospital.

December

Help us keep defending your right to know by making a year-end, tax-deductible donation today. Your contribution will enable the foundation to capture generous matching funds from CNN — meaning you can double the impact of every dollar you give.

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