JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Responding to media pushback and national criticism, Chief Judge Mark Mahon rescinded his controversial administrative order limiting otherwise legal conduct on the grounds of the Duval County Courthouse.
The judge's order came a day after Mahon met with representatives of local media outlets and their lawyers, who specifically asked Mahon to rescind the order.
Mahon had already retooled his July 1 order, removing language that banned speech or demonstrations critical of judges – specifically, any language that would "degrade or call into question the integrity of the court." That language made Mahon a target of both local and national criticism, including First Amendment lawyers, who said that targeting the content of speech was an affront to free speech. They also criticized Mahon's suggestion that language critical of judges was somehow a threat to public safety.
"Shouting out …[that] judges are 'corrupt' during business hours while people are entering the Courthouse is entirely inappropriate and disruptive and is analogous to falsely shouting 'fire' in a crowded theater," Mahon's original order stated.
While Mahon removed that language on July 7, the order remained in effect, including a prohibition on filming "non-public" courthouse entrances, even if filmed from public sidewalks. And that, attorney George Gabel told Mahon at the Tuesday meeting between judges and media, was unacceptable. Gabel said prohibiting the publication of photos taken from a public place like a sidewalk constituted a "prior restraint" and was therefore unconstitutional.
Judge Mahon told media in attendance, including First Coast News, that he could not comment on the order, which was the target of a citizen lawsuit. But he did express a desire to "get it right," and expresses some frustration at the complexity of drafting an administrative order.
Mahon did not respond to an email request for comment.
Gabel told First Coast News, "I think we should complement Judge Mahon on listening the news media and others. His order created issues that brought together all the major news media on an issue … despite being competitors."
Local media have previously worked together to fight for access to Gov. Rick Scott's emails and to fight a previous (and still extant) order that restricts camera use inside the courthouse.
Here's a copy of the order: