Courthouse Videotaping Limits in Georgia Nixed

     (CN) - The possibility of inconvenience cannot prevent citizen journalists from bringing cameras into Peach State courts, a Georgia appeals court ruled.
     Joshua McLaurin had run into the policy while "engaged in a project examining the Georgia criminal justice system and the varying experiences of indigent defendants in different parts of the state," according to the ruling.
     Characterizing himself as a Yale Law School student, McLaurin had petitioned to record the criminal calendar proceedings in Walton County on July 15, 2013, and in Newton County on July 18, 2013, but the Alcovy Judicial Circuit became concerned about his filming of the proceedings,
     It ultimately denied the petition after an extended colloquy in which the court questioned whether McLaurin could "produce credentials confirming that he was in fact a law student engaged in an academic project," suggesting that he "might actually be engaged in a for-profit venture, and that the finished product might be edited so as to create a false impression," the ruling states.
     That court also cited worries about the administrative aspects of notifying parties and their witnesses of their right to object his recording. It decided that a rule about electronic and photographic news coverage of judicial proceedings applies only to credentialed news media.
     In vacating that ruling Monday, a three-judge panel with the Georgia Court of Appeals cited the goals of advancing public access and the openness.
     Precedent holds that, "although the decision whether to allow electronic and photographic coverage of a trial is within the discretion of the trial court, if a trial court denies such coverage, there must be a factual basis in the record that supports the denial," the ruling from the Atlanta-based court's Second Division states.
     Administrative concerns do not justify stopping noncredentialed journalists from filming in the courtroom, the appeals court ruled.
     Though the trial court may be right that a single announcement would be insufficient to notify all participants, "the record does not support his conclusion that the administrative burden would be excessive," Judge Christopher McFadden wrote for the court.
     "The trial court has broad discretion in deciding how best to provide the requisite notice and opportunity to be heard," the ruling continues. "Under Georgia's policy favoring open judicial proceedings ... a petitioner is entitled to consume a reasonable amount of judicial resources in adjudicating the petition and the merits of any objections.
     "We therefore conclude that the trial court erred in excluding the camera, and remand for reconsideration."
     The appeals court said it sympathizes with the lower court's concern about an edited finished product, as "such things have been known to occur," but Georgia law favors openness over those concerns.