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Justices Rescind Order Banning Photos on Courthouse Steps

Capitol Media Services
Chief Justice Robert Brutinel

By Howard Fischer
Capitol Media Services

PHOENIX -- Facing criticism, the chief justices of the Arizona Supreme Court rescinded an order that banned photography and videos around the courthouse and even on the sidewalks.

The new order issued Robert Brutinel keeps in place part of last month's original order that bars people from taking photographs, recording video and live streaming inside the building that houses the Supreme Court and one division of the Court of Appeals. The identical rules apply to the other Court of Appeals division in Tucson.

But gone is the expansive verbiage that made such activities illegal at entrances, exits, steps, stairways and patios -- as well as the parking area adjacent to the courthouses and even the sidewalks.

In its place is language that appears designed to address at least part of the issue that resulted in Brutinel issuing the first order: concern about protests outside the building -- and protesters with cameras that might intimidate those going to court -- that can disrupt court business.

The new wording prohibits "any activity that threatens any person, disrupts court operations, or compromises court security at entrances and exits and on patios, steps, and adjacent marking areas dedicated to court use.'' And there is no restriction on what can occur on sidewalks.

In an interview Wednesday, Brutinel told Capitol Media Services that the original order was designed to protect the rights of individuals who did not want to be filmed and not want to be identified, particularly victims and jurors.

"It was never intended to impinge on people's rights to stand out in front of the courthouse and take pictures and, even with permission, to come into the courthouse and take pictures,'' he said.

"We wanted some control over making sure we knew who was going to be there doing that and that it didn't interfere (and) the people that did it were going to be respectful of the rights of the people that didn't want to be filmed,'' Brutinel explained. "And I don't think we did a good enough job of drafting that order.''

That original order, the justice said, resulted in "lots of feedback.'' Some of that came from attorney Dan Barr who specializes in First Amendment issues who was critical of Brutinel's earlier order.

Barr said he was consulted last week about revisions to that order. And he told Capitol Media Services that this time Brutinel and the court staffers who crafted it got it right.

The key, said Barr, is focusing on the things that can be considered legitimate concerns of the court.

"For stuff outside the courthouse now, you see it's all aimed at disruptive conduct and not at photography or First Amendment protected activities,'' he said.

Barr said that is similar to the rules that now exist at the U.S. Supreme Court about the plaza, the vast expanse between the steps to the nation's high court and the public sidewalk.

"Photography is perfectly fine and media interviews are perfectly fine,'' he said. "But you can't do things that are disruptive there.''

For that reason, Barr said, court security officials can intercede if reporters are conducting interviews on courthouse steps if they are blocking access to the courthouse or preventing people from leaving the parking lot.

Barr said he is pleased not just by the changes but how quickly Brutinel responded to the concerns.

"Give the court credit for reconsidering this and fixing this rule, and doing it fairly quickly, especially when you compare it with other public agencies and do stuff like this and you have to file an action or something like that,'' he said. "They listened to our concerns and they changed it.''

The new rule, like its predecessor, does permit exceptions for those who seek written permission at least two days ahead of any scheduled event to take pictures or videos inside the courthouse. That is consistent with current practice that permits newspaper and television photographers and videographers to take pictures during open sessions of court.

And the rule also allows for pictures to be taken without advance permission for " educational and ceremonial events'' like school visits, judges being sworn in, and procedures to swear in new attorneys to the State Bar of Arizona.


On Twitter: @azcapmedia

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