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Friday, May 17, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Judge in Florida Sets Limits on Covering Trials

(CN) - A mere nine weeks into his tenure as chief judge of Florida's 4th Judicial Circuit, Mark Mahon has written himself into a controversy over who can cover trials and the hoops they have to jump through to do so.

The chief judge's first administrative order, issued last week, narrows the definition of media, and requires all reporters the court deems legitimate to apply for credentials.

Further, the order establishes new rules for bringing laptops and cameras into the courtroom.

The order from Mahon was reportedly issued in response to repeated attempts by a website, Photography is Not a Crime, to gain access to the misdemeanor trial of an antigovernment activist.

The website did not respond to a request for comment. But the order itself refers to "recent requests" from "non-traditional, self-proclaimed newsgathering sources" to videotape proceedings.

These requests, Mahon writes, "has alerted this Circuit as to the absence of any expressly articulated definition for 'media' in cases that are not of extraordinary public interest."

The new order defines "media" in two ways: As being one of the "traditional print and broadcast communication channels, such as radio and television, newspapers and magazines, through which news and information is disseminated that reach or influence people widely: and as "next generation of digital, computerized or networked information and communication technologies not directly associated with traditional print and/or broadcast media entities."

But Mahon takes the definition of digital media a step further, describing it as an online entity "that has regularly updated original news -- "content above and beyond links, forums, trouble-shooting tips and reader contributions" -- that employs an editor to review content before publication, and that has been covering the judiciary for at least six months before applying for a press credential.

Even if a media outlet meets these criteria, the administrative order states that media coverage of judicial proceedings is subject at all times to the authority of the presiding judge. The same rule applies to the use laptops and cameras.

The office of the court administrator said the press credential requirement will go into effect on May 11.

Each credential will cost $10, over and above a $25 fee to pay for a criminal background check.

Those people or entities who do not meet the definition of "media" will be classified as an "other," whose presence and use of electronic devices in the courtroom will be entirely up to the discretion of the presiding judge.

Florida's 4th Judicial Circuit covers Clay, Duval and Nassau Counties in the northeastern corner of the state and encompasses the City of Jacksonville.

Mahon, a former Republican state representative, served in the legislature from 2000 to 2007.

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