Q&A: Court proceedings start early

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The following questions came from Daily Reporter (Greenfield):

Q: A judge is starting hearings early, leading to our staff missing key testimony we need in order to cover things fairly. Most recently, the judge started an 11 a.m. hearing at 10:35 a.m., which shocked the local police chief (who had to hurry over from the police department) and other officials involved, including the defendant’s lawyer, who showed up “late.” Our reporter arrived at 10:50 a.m. expecting to be 10 minutes early but in reality was 15 minutes late.

We are concerned this practice thwarts the public’s ability to attend an open hearing. Your thoughts?

Meanwhile, we asked the judge (via email) what the procedure is for getting a copy of the audio recording of the hearing, since we missed a significant portion. Because he has failed to respond, we would now like to send a formal letter, citing the Indiana Code that allows us access to the recording. Can you help us narrow down the code we should cite? 

A: The Open Door Law doesn’t apply to the judicial branch, so we have to look at other arguments for the judge to start proceedings at the scheduled time.

You might gently remind the judge that IC 5-14-2-2 says, “Criminal proceedings are presumptively open to attendance by the general public.” Starting 25 minutes earlier than scheduled would run counter to that legislative mandate.

As to the recording, you can reference the Indiana Supreme Court’s Administrative Rule 9, which is the judiciary’s equivalent to the Access to Public Records Act:

9(D)(1) says court records are accessible by the public unless specifically made confidential by another section of the rule.

(D)(2) says the rule applies to all court records, regardless of form.

So the recording should be made available for anyone to hear. The judge won’t give you a copy because the Supreme Court prohibits broadcast of trial court proceedings.

That also will mean that the judge may set restrictions to make sure you don’t electronically copy the audio.

Timing of when you can hear the recording could be impacted by the trial court’s equipment. If the only device that can play the audio is located in the courtroom, for example, you’ll have to work around the court’s scheduled hearings.

Follow-up question: I have since learned that the court does not allow members of the public to listen to recordings. Instead, people are required to pay to have a transcription.

There’s a per-page charge, and I’m told an hour’s testimony is about $350. Is this proper?

A: The judge’s policy doesn’t comport with the intent of the Supreme Court. If you want to pursue it I suggest you contact Kathryn Dolan, the Indiana Supreme Court’s public information officer, at (317) 234-4722.

Hopefully, the justices will quietly tell the judge he needs to change his system so that people can listen to the tapes

Contact Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel, with media law questions at skey@hspa.com or (317) 624-4427.

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