Utah Courts Not Honoring Intent of Valid Electronic Media Requests
There is a court rule, Rule 4-401.01 of the Code of Judicial Administration that provides for the electronic news media to report on public court proceedings. Rule 4-401.01 provides, in parts:
To establish uniform standards and procedures for electronic media coverage of court proceedings.
To permit electronic media coverage of proceedings while protecting the right of parties to a fair trial, personal privacy and safety, the decorum and dignity of proceedings, and the fair administration of justice.
This rule governs electronic media coverage of proceedings that are open to the public.
Rule 4-401.01 defines “Proceeding” as “any trial, hearing, or other matter that is open to the public.” Rule 4-401.01 (1)(B). Rule 4-401.01 defines “News reporter” as “any publisher, editor, reporter or other similar person gathering information for the primary purpose of disseminating news to the public, and any newspaper, magazine, or other periodical publication, press association or wire service, radio station, television station, satellite broadcast, cable system or other organization with whom that person is connected.” Rule 4-401.01 (1)(D)
Rule 4-401.01 further provides:
(2)(A) Other than for case types classified as private under rule 4-202.02(4)(B), there is a presumption that electronic media coverage by a news reporter shall be permitted in public proceedings. The judge may prohibit or restrict electronic media coverage only if the judge finds that the reasons for doing so are sufficiently compelling to outweigh the presumption.
Rule 4-202.02(4)(B) includes in its list of legal case types classified as private:
(4)(B)(i) Title 30, Husband and Wife;
(4)(B)(ii) Title 77, Chapter 3a, Stalking Injunctions;
(4)(B)(iv) Title 78B, Chapter 7, Protective Orders;
(4)(B)(v) Title 78B, Chapter 12, Utah Child Support Act;
(4)(B)(vi) Title 78B, Chapter 13, Utah Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act;
(4)(B)(vii) Title 78B, Chapter 14, Uniform Interstate Family Support Act;
(4)(B)(viii) Title 78B, Chapter 15, Utah Uniform Parentage Act; and
(4)(B)(ix) an action to modify or enforce a judgment in any of the actions in this subparagraph (B);
And yet Rule 4-401.01 still provides:
(2)(E) A judge may permit electronic media coverage by a news reporter in the case types classified as private under rule 4-202.02(4)(B).
Knowing all of this, what would you say to an electronic news media request from a reporter who stated the following in his or her request?:
PLEASE NOTE: This reporter is more than willing to report subject to any reasonable restrictions the court deems necessary to protect against real (not feared or imagined) prejudice or any other harm articulated in 4-401.01.
PLEASE NOTE: NO REQUEST IS MADE TO COVER ANYTHING OTHER THAN THE PUBLIC PROCEEDINGS IN THE FOLLOWING ACTION(S). NO REQUEST IS MADE TO COVER ANY IN-CAMERA, OFF THE RECORD PORTION, OR ANY OTHER PROCEEDINGS THAT RULE 4-401.01 PROHIBITS FROM BEING REPORTED.
If the court has concerns over privacy or other real dangers that electronic media coverage actually creates (as opposed to perceived “risks” of “possible” harm, which are limited only by the power of one’s imagination), this reporter is willing to submit to reasonable, necessary, good faith restrictions on media coverage, and to those ends:
· has the ability—and is willing—to blot out faces and/or to “bleep out” certain words and statements of parties, witnesses or other participants in the proceedings, if the court in good faith concludes that it is truly necessary to do so under Rule 4-401.01; and
· is willing to cooperate with the court fully in any and all other ways necessary to ensure that electronic media coverage of proceedings takes place in compliance with the policy, intent, and express substance of Rule 4-401.01.
PLEASE NOTE FURTHER: I desire nothing other than to gather, record, photograph, report, and publish information for the purpose of disseminating news and information to the public about divorce and other family law legal matters in Utah. I have neither the intention nor desire to prejudice the right of the parties to a fair proceeding; jeopardize the safety or well-being of any individual; jeopardize the interests or well-being of a minor; commit an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy of any party or witness; create adverse effects greater than those caused by media coverage without recording or transmitting images or sound; tax the adequacy of the court’s physical facilities for electronic media coverage; or otherwise adversely affect the fair administration of justice.
I acknowledge that UCJA Rule 4-401.01(2) provides that a court may restrict or prohibit electronic media coverage of public court proceedings. To these ends, and in keeping with the UCJA Rule 4-401.01(2) presumption of electronic media coverage and its provisions governing restrictions on coverage, I give notice that Utah Family Law TV and its reporters are willing to abide by any reasonable and compelling restrictions the court may impose on Utah Family Law TV’s electronic media coverage, so that the proceedings may be covered and reported by Utah Family Law TV.
A far greater percentage of the public seek personal knowledge and understanding of the workings of domestic relations law in the district courts than of any other civil action. Utah Family Law TV is not seeking merely to inform the public about court proceedings generally, but to educate the public about the workings of the domestic relations courts. Consequently, the public interest in divorce and other domestic relations proceedings generally makes them newsworthy in their own right because of the potentially beneficial effects allowing public observation of the proceeding through electronic media coverage confer.
Despite the public nature of family law proceedings in the district courts, few members of the public come to see what is happening in their courts, even though they are wide open to the public. It can be a good thing for people to know what is happening; these are their courts. While allowing cameras into the courtroom can potentially present problems with witness intimidation or creating a focus on media coverage rather than the task at hand, we hope and truly believe that the benefits will outweigh negatives, especially in creating a better understanding of family law matters for the public. UCJA Rule 4-401.01 is a thoughtfully-crafted, well-drafted rule that, as-is, provides more than sufficient protection of both private and public interests when it comes to electronic news media coverage of any public court proceedings, as I submit this request form demonstrates. If any problem lies in applying the rule it does not lie in the design or drafting of the rule itself, but in how thoughtful, careful judicial officers and reporters apply, as I submit the this request form also demonstrates.
Would you respond with this?:
That’s right; despite all of the assurances of protection given, commissioner Luhn (a domestic relations commissioner in Salt Lake County’s Third District Court) still feels “[t]here are simply no reasonable restrictions which will satisfy” concerns over media coverage. Worse, apparently Commissioner Luhn sees a distinction between the "informational and educational" and "journalism" and "news." Do you find that in any way illogical? Insulting to journalists?
So if something is "purely" informational and educational, is it incapable of being news? To qualify as news, does the court want coverage of court proceedings to be sensational? Entertaining?