Judge attacks Examiner's right to photograph court proceedings with pointless hearing

Judge Joseph Macey subjected us to a pointless court hearing because he apparently doesn't understand court rules about news media The Examiner is covering George Thompson's wiretapping case and, as part of that coverage we attended a pretrial hearing for Thompson at the Fall River Center for Justice on March 13. When we made plans to attend the hearing, we hoped to get a video and take some photographs.

In order to legally record or photograph a court hearing under the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Rule 1:19, Maya registered with the Public Information Officer of the Supreme Judicial Court as an independent journalist.

To comply with SJC 1:19, an independent journalist usually must bring proof of registration to the court and present it to the court officer before the session that the journalist wishes to record. The journalist must also provide a valid picture ID.

Registering is not always necessary, however. According to SJC 1:19, "a judge may entertain a request to permit electronic access as authorized by this rule to a particular matter over which the judge is presiding by news media that have not registered with the Public Information Officer."

Under SJC 1:19 there can only be one video camera and one still photography camera present in a courtroom at a time, and all journalists media groups who appeared to make those recording must share their video and pictures. At Thompson's pretrial court hearing, we were joined by WPRI reporter Tim White and his cameraman, so we entered the video pool with them.

Before Thompson's hearing, we presented ourselves to a court officer and showed her Maya's registration paperwork and explained that Andrew was not yet registered, but also was also a reporter for the Examiner and wished to act as a still photographer. The court officer went to speak with a judge, then returned and told us that we were both approved to act as media at the court hearing.

During George Thompson's hearing, Andrew took still photographs of the proceeding with his cell phone. A prosecutor who observed Andrew taking photographs approached a court officer to complain and pointed Andrew out to him. Andrew was approached shortly after by a court officer who asked him if he was a member of the media, to which Andrew responded in the affirmative. The officer then walked away.

After Thompson's hearing, we were outside the courtroom speaking with Thompson and the other reporters who came to cover the hearing when we were all approached by several court officers who ordered us back into the courtroom.

Once inside, Judge Joseph Macey asked which one of us had been taking pictures with a cell phone. Andrew stood up and said that he had taken pictures with his phone. Macey demanded to know if Andrew was registered to take pictures. Andrew said that he wasn't, but that he had obtained permission to do so by speaking with a court officer.

Judge Macey then requested that Andrew produce a "media card" which is presumably an ID card issued by a news media organization. Such cards are not a legally valid form of ID and have no bearing on SJC 1:19. As an independent journalist, Andrew did not have a "media card." Maya did produce her registration form to show Macey, but he refused to look at. Macey ordered Andrew to attend a hearing at 2 PM so that he could determine if SJC 1:19 had been violated.

Macey never asked the WPRI cameraman who recorded the court hearing if he was registered to shoot video in court, demonstrating that he had arbitrarily targeted Andrew.

This occurred around 12:40, so we forced to remain in the vicinity of the courthouse for about an hour and a half causing us to postpone our plans to interview Thompson and cancel other shooting plans we had for the day.

While we were waiting, we spoke to a court officer at the entrance of the building and had him page the court officer who gave us permission to photograph Thompson's hearing. When she arrived, she seemed confused by Macey's behavior. She said she would try to clear things up for us, but told us that we still needed to attend the hearing.

We went back to the courtroom early and saw that Macey was not present, meaning he had taken a recess instead of holding the hearing earlier.

When Macey finally showed up (he was about 10 minutes late), he began the hearing.

Maya attended the hearing to support Andrew and was surprised when Macey first requested that she produce her registration paper. This was a surprise because Maya had not taken any pictures nor had Macey told her to appear at the hearing. Nevertheless, she showed Macey the paperwork, and he said that she was cleared.

While it is lucky that Maya attended the hearing, we found it troubling that she was not told to appear and could have potentially faced consequences if she hadn't.

Macey then questioned Andrew. Andrew again explained that he was not registered but had sought and obtained permission to take still photographs. This time Macey acknowledged that Andrew had been given permission to take photographs, but insisted on subjecting him to a repetitive lecture about how he needed to be registered if he wanted to take photographs in the future.

This hearing should have never happened. Judge Macey should have better acquainted himself with SJC 1:19 before demanding that people wait for hours to hold a hearing about it. He should have known that a person can obtain permission to photograph court proceedings without registering. He also should have known that a "media card" is not a legal form of identification and has no bearing on SJC 1:19.

There also appear to be communication problems with the court officers at the Fall River Center for Justice. After the court officer we spoke to cleared our photography with a judge, she should have informed Judge Macey and the other court officers present that Andrew had permission to take photographs.

Ultimately, we presented no evidence or testimony during the the hearing that we hadn't presented when we were first questioned by Macey, demonstrating how pointless the hearing was.

The hearing concluded around 2:20 PM, costing more than an hour and a half of our time and our opportunity to shoot material about the Thompson case.