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Judge Rules MD Journalists Can Legally Broadcast Court Recordings

A federal judge handed a victory to a group of journalists and advocates who argued that Maryland’s ban on broadcasting legally obtained recordings of court hearings violated the First Amendment, reports the Maryland Daily Record. Senior U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett granted summary judgment in favor of the group and ruled that the Maryland ban failed to pass strict scrutiny. “The State of Maryland remains free to prohibit live broadcasting from the courtroom, and to regulate the release of shielded records and video recordings under the Maryland Rules,” Bennett wrote. “However, the State may not sanction the press for broadcasting ‘lawfully obtained, truthful information’ that the State itself has disclosed to the public.”

Baltimore reporters Brandon Soderberg and Baynard Woods, along with three criminal justice advocacy organizations, sued in 2019 because they feared being held in contempt of court if they broadcast legally obtained recordings of criminal proceedings in Maryland. Soderberg and Woods planned to use recordings in a documentary film about the Baltimore Police Department’s disgraced Gun Trace Task Force. The organizations, Open Justice Baltimore, Baltimore Action Legal Team and Life After Release wanted to use the recordings to highlight their work and educate community members about the justice system. Bennett acknowledged that the state has compelling interests, including protecting the integrity of criminal trials and shielding witnesses from harassment. The ban does not actually serve those interests and burdens more speech than necessary, Bennett found. Once a court recording has been released, the state cannot limit how it is used by the public and the press.

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