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SJC asked to limit broadcasts

WBUR defends right to show hearings

WBUR has recorded the hearing of Norman S. Barnes (above), who is accused of human trafficking.
WBUR has recorded the hearing of Norman S. Barnes (above), who is accused of human trafficking.

Two lawyers yesterday asked the Supreme Judicial Court to impose restrictions on the WBUR-FM project that broadcasts some Quincy District Court hearings over the Internet.

Norfolk Assistant District Attorney Varsha Kukafka said that if the justices allow opencourt.us to post a hearing involving accused human trafficker Norman S. Barnes, they will be revictimizing the teenage girl he is charged with kidnapping and forcing into prostitution.

Barnes has pleaded not guilty to all charges. He was indicted last month on 10 counts of deriving support from a minor in prostitution, seven counts of aiding and abetting in the commission of statutory rape, four counts of statutory rape, four counts of dissemination of visual material of a child in a state of nudity, and three counts of posting a child in a state of nudity.


“Posting the hearing on the Internet that includes . . . her private information and . . . lurid details of what she went through is a further assault,’’ Kukafka told the SJC justices. “That shouldn’t happen.’’ Justice Ralph Gants said if the SJC adopted the thinking of WBUR’s critics, “we’re going to be ordering BU not to publish. . . . How’s that not prior restraint?’’

Defense attorney John Fennel urged the SJC to treat the recordings like a court record, giving the SJC the power to ban WBUR - owned by Boston University - from posting a recording without violating the First Amendment protection against prior government restraint.

But banning WBUR from adding a hearing video to its archives could easily violate the First Amendment ban on prior restraint by the government on the press, said the university and WBUR.

BU attorney Lawrence S. Elswit said there is no difference between what WBUR captures in the courtroom and information provided by mainstream news outlets like The Boston Globe.


“The irony is that much more identifying information is already out there on the Internet by virtue of traditional news media,’’ Elswit said. “Once the information is out there, it’s out there for the world to see.’’ The SJC is being asked to decide who controls the video recordings made by WBUR inside the courtroom with the explicit backing of the court system.

A decision by the SJC is due in the next several weeks.

John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com.