A Supreme Judicial Court justice has once again ruled in favor of the media organization OpenCourt, allowing it to move forward with plans for live streaming of trials in Quincy District Court.
OpenCourt, which is run by Boston University’s WBUR-FM, has been live-streaming from Quincy District Court’s First Session hearings, which typically are held at the beginning of criminal cases. But the organization recently received permission from Quincy Justice Mark Coven to begin streaming jury trials.
Although Coven had established guidelines, Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey believed they had not been vetted thoroughly enough to warrant an expansion into trial courts. As a result, Morrissey filed for an injunction against Quincy District Court to halt expansion of the project into different rooms within the courthouse until a more formal set of rules was put in place.
A judiciary media committee that was established by a previous Supreme Judicial Court case involving OpenCourt is establishing those formal guidelines. It is unclear when they will be released.
Attorneys for both the District Court and Morrissey agreed to hold off on any expansion until a Supreme Judicial Court judge rendered an opinion, which was issued Tuesday afternoon.
Despite the district attorney’s protests, the justice agreed with members of OpenCourt and Quincy District Court, saying that the move into trial courtrooms should not be postponed.
According to Justice Margot Botsford, moving into the trial rooms is not an expansion of the project, as the proceedings are occurring in the same courthouse.
“It fits within the provision permitting OpenCourt to continue its operations while formal guidelines are developed,” Botsford said.
For now, the working guidelines established by Coven include no broadcasts of cases involving sexual assault or domestic violence in which victims do not want to be on camera; sexual assault or domestic violence cases in which witnesses are minors; or cases in which witnesses would be subject to retaliation or placed in physical jeopardy.
Additionally, trials involving an undercover police officer would not be broadcast; juries will never be shown on camera; the judge can control the audio from the bench; microphones at the attorneys’ tables would not be streamed; and video streaming would not be archived until a verdict is returned.
Botsford said those rules adequately address Morrissey’s concerns regarding the risks to victims, witnesses, and defendants.
The district attorney can ask that names or identifying information about victims be redacted from broadcasts before items are archived. However, that information cannot be redacted during live streaming of the session.
Because jury trials are scheduled far in advance and subject matter is known prior to the trial, the district attorney and others can move to preclude print or broadcast coverage prior to the day of trial, the judge said. As a result, the district attorney’s office will have to ask for coverage to be withdrawn on an individual basis, as it does now in First Session.
On March 14, the Supreme Judicial Court ruled 5 to 0 that a district court could not require a media organization to redact information during live streaming, after the district attorney tried to bar archiving of a hearing broadcast by OpenCourt when information identifying a victim was released.