Thursday, June 2, 2011

OKC TV stations won't appeal judge's order banning cameras on entire floor of courthouse

An attorney representing four Oklahoma City TV stations says they won't appeal a judge's order banning cameras from the same courthouse floor as criminal proceedings involving an Oklahoma County judge and her husband, The Associated Press reports.

Robert D. Nelon has said the order by Judge Paul Woodward is blatantly unconstitutional.

I'm told the decision not to appeal is about newsroom budgets, not the chances of winning. OKC stations spent a lot of money attempting to get cameras into the courtroom for the murder trial of pharmacist Jerome Ersland.

Coincidentally, it was Oklahoma County Judge Tammy Bass-LeSure who initially approved allowing cameras in the Ersland trial courtroom. Now it's her criminal trial in the Oklahoma County Courthouse that Judge Paul Woodward is keeping television cameras away from.

On Tuesday, Woodward refused to hear Nelon's motion challenging the judge's order that TV cameras be kept away "from the immediate vicinity" of his Oklahoma County courtroom during hearings for Bass-LeSure. Woodward threatened to have TV crews arrested for contempt and to confiscate their cameras if he sees them near the courtroom again.

Unfortunately, Oklahoma County voters -- in whose courthouse Woodward is hearing motions regarding criminal allegations against one of their elected officials -- won't have any say the next time Woodward's name is on the ballot.

Woodward is a Garfield County judge but is hearing this case because his Oklahoma County counterparts recused themselves.

On Wednesday, a FOX 25 reporter and videographer learned that television cameras aren't banned from the hallways of the Garfield County Courthouse.

When the news crew shot video of Woodward's office door from the hallway, one of the judge's staffers asked, "Have you gotten permission to do that?" The news crew replied, "It's a public hallway."

Chief Judge Dennis Hladik told the reporter that the news media has a right to be in the Garfield County Courthouse.

So what is Woodward's compelling reason for banning them from the Oklahoma County Courthouse floor? Don't know. He hasn't given one. And he won't if the news stations don't ask a higher court to overturn his order.

Woodward's order starts down a slippery slope. May he ban TV crews from the entire courthouse or even the sidewalk outside? That's no more farfetched than his banning them from an entire floor of the courthouse.

Before newspaper folks start rejoicing over the ban on TV cameras, they should ask whether Woodward's order applies to them as well. Won't they want to shoot videos of interviews outside the courtroom if an actual trial occurs? Seems to be the thing to do in an era of converged media.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.

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