GA Federal Judge Bans Courtroom Tweeting

A federal judge in Georgia has banned twittering from the courtroom as a violation of Rule 53 which prohibits broadcasting of proceedings to the public. The opinion is here.

the Court finds that the contemporaneous transmission of electronic messages from the courtroom describing the trial proceedings, and the dissemination of those messages in a manner such that they are widely and instantaneously accessible to the general public, falls within the definition of “broadcasting” as used in Rule 53. Therefore, this type of broadcasting is prohibited under Rule 53, unless the application of Rule 53 is unconstitutional because it unduly restricts the freedom of the press under the First Amendment.

By that rationale, live-blogging trial would also be prohibited. Other courts have had no problem with it, e.g., the Scooter Libby and Joe Nacchio trials. The 10th Circuit even allowed live-blogging of oral arguments in the Nacchio appeal. [More...]

I don't think a reporter or blogger's twittering or live-blogging is broadcasting "the judicial proceedings." They are broadcasting their interpretation of the proceedings. Even if they quote portions, they are not representing them to be replicas of the official transcript or proceedings. And what if they are doing it from an overflow courtroom or media room into which the proceedings are being broadcast?

Twittering represents even less of a broadcast than live-blogging, since it's limited to 140 words and unlikely to even be an attempt at a transcript.

A state court judge in Denver has barred tweeting in an upcoming high profile murder trial in which cooperators are testifying. I assume that's for witness safety. When that's not an issue, who is the twittering or live-blogging going to prejudice? The jurors are already in the courtroom and instructed not to access media reports. Witnesses are advised of the rule of sequestration and can be instructed not to follow media accounts before they testify.

The AP and other major media outlets get same-day transcripts in high profile trials which they liberally quote from in their news reports. But they don't share them with the public, or with bloggers, and most bloggers can't afford them, so live-blogging is the only way for bloggers to get their hands on what happens in the courtroom. If they take the time and make the effort to go to court and sit through the trial, they should be allowed to instantaneously report their impressions.

Even though I doubt this judge's ruling will catch fire with other federal judges, it's still a threat and bad precedent.

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  • Display: Sort:
    In the SDNY (5.00 / 1) (#1)
    by Steve M on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 10:57:33 PM EST
    You cannot bring any cell phones, Blackberries, etc. into the courthouse at all, so we are way ahead of this judge.  I think many federal courthouses work the same way.

    In Colorado (none / 0) (#2)
    by Jeralyn on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 11:12:45 PM EST
    anyone can bring in a cell phone or computer, so long as it doesn't have a camera. Lawyers get a "green card" that allows them to bring in cell phones, pdas and computers with cameras.

    In D.C. for the Libby trial, we couldn't bring in cell phones but we could bring in laptops.

    Does any federal court ban laptops, even those with wi-fi cards? You can tweet from tweetdeck and other programs on your laptop.


    The funny part (none / 0) (#5)
    by Steve M on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 12:03:30 AM EST
    just try finding a cell phone without a camera nowadays!  You can tell some of these rules are a little dated already.

    Not a problem. (none / 0) (#6)
    by Fabian on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 01:24:16 AM EST
    They still sell the basic cell phone.  But you know people and their toys - they gotta have ALL the bells and whistles!

    Federal district court at one point (none / 0) (#3)
    by oculus on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 11:30:43 PM EST
    required checking cell phones/cameras with security at entrance to the courthouse.  Then the rule changed:  ok for lawyers to bring in cell phones; just don't take any photos.  I assumed the change was due to inconvenience of lawyers w/o cell phones at settlement conferences.

    Only jury I was on (none / 0) (#4)
    by CoralGables on Mon Nov 09, 2009 at 11:40:51 PM EST
    No cell phones were permitted to be used in the courtroom for anything and if anyone in the gallery had a phone ring they were shipped out.

    oddly enough, (none / 0) (#7)
    by cpinva on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 01:59:07 AM EST
    i was under the (apparently foolish) impression that, in this country, per the constitution, trials are public affairs, since public monies pay for most of the accessories.

    contrary to judicial misconception, judges don't actually own the courthouse, we the people do. absent some legitimate reason (security, witness safety, etc), why shouldn't trials be broadcast real-time?

    When I (none / 0) (#8)
    by jbindc on Tue Nov 10, 2009 at 06:12:03 AM EST
    was a court clerk for a Michigan circuit court judge, no cell phones were allowed to be on and there were signs everywhere.  When someone's phone went off in the gallery, the judge took the phone away from that person until the proceedings were over.