The workshop on court coverage drew questions from the audience of about 30 people.
‘Usually when you’re tweeting in the courtroom, you want to get the judge’s permission. Let the judge know you want to tweet.’
-- Julie Manganis,
and outs of covering
Courtrooms are filled with stories, and journalists should take advantage of public access resources in covering what transpires inside courtrooms and should use discretion when covering related stories outside courtrooms, according to two experts on court coverage.
Julie Manganis, a court reporter for The Salem (Mass.) News, and Robert A. Bertsche, a lawyer with the Boston firm of Prince Lobel Tye LLP, presented a workshop on “Access to courtrooms and court records” Saturday, Feb. 20, at the New England Newspaper and Press Association winter convention.
About 30 people attended the workshop on court coverage and media law, held at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel.
“When I came up with the idea of holding this program, I thought accessing … courtrooms and court records was an important topic … There are lots of questions about different kinds of access,” Bertsche said.
Bertsche said arraignments are all public; civil proceedings are generally open; and reporters can also have access to any discovery motions in a lawsuit once they are filed in court.
He said reporters can challenge the impounding of records or evidence in court cases and report on the expunging of court records of criminal offenders.
He discussed the availability of online court records reporters can access and portals that allow reporters to sign up for access to files in ongoing cases in federal court.
“You should become familiar with the degree of online access you have in your state for dockets to cases that are going on,” he said.
Drawing on her years of reporting, Manganis offered a guide to covering legal proceedings. She stressed that reporters should always ask to see the case files after a court session.
“Ask to see the files, and always ask for it. Even if they are not available, at least you make the effort,” she said. “There is a lot of stuff in the files usually, especially in the district court. Because you will get the whole police report. You can ask for the rest of the file, if the police report is impounded. You can say, ‘Let me see the docket sheet. Let me see the application for the complaint.’ And this will have great information for you.”
Manganis said reporters should use discretion when collecting information, such as quotes, outside courtroom proceedings.
“There is a privilege that you can report on what is said in the courtroom as long as it’s accurate. You have protection there,” she said. “So it’s after the proceeding, … you want to talk to the parties. That’s where we have to be careful, because that’s not part of the proceeding.”
Manganis was asked about tweeting in the courtroom.
“Usually when you’re tweeting in the courtroom, you want to get the judge’s permission. Let the judge know you want to tweet,” she said.
She said courts could provide a treasure trove of stories for reporters.
“Courts are full of stories. It’s a big box of stories,” Manganis said. “Some stories are irrelevant, some stories are uninteresting. But every case is someone’s story.”
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