Media outlets fight for improved courtroom access

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Local media outlets argued for improved courtroom access at a hearing before the first District Court of Appeals Tuesday.

The petitioners – which include First Coast News and The Florida Times Union – argue that reporters and media were not given access to the courtroom during jury selection in the Michael Dunn trial. Not only were reporters initially denied access to the primary courtroom, media lawyers contend video of jury selection wasn't available and the audio feed to the overflow courtroom was poor.

Judge Russell Healey has said there was not enough room to allow media in the courtroom during the early stages of jury selection, although he did allow four media representatives in on the second day, after hearing from media attorneys.

However, media was excluded from the final stages of jury selection when the eventual 12 jurors and for alternates were selected.

RELATED STORY: Local media still fighting for access in the Dunn case

Lawyers for First Coast News and The Florida Times-Union argue media has a First Amendment right to be present during trials, even during jury selection -- a right affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorney George Gabel represented FCN and the T-U in Tallahassee.

He said, "The fact is the media is there as a surrogate for the public in the courtroom because most people have a job and can't see what's going on."

Gabel said pressing the issue for access is important even though the Michael Dunn trial is over. He said, "there will be a retrial" and noted other upcoming high profile cases.

The appellate judges heard from Patricia Meggs Pate of the Attorney General's Office. She represented the 4th Judicial Circuit Court. She argued that the Northeast Florida Media Committee agreed to have only an audio feed piped into the overflow courtroom during jury selection. However, some members of the committee say they never agreed to that.

Pate also argued that sensitive juror information can be discussed during jury selection and thus part of the process can be closed to the media and public. Gabel disagreed, stating it's a public process.

No ruling was issued today.


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