DCA allows blogging in court room

A Florida appeals court has overturned a Jacksonville judge’s ban on blogging at a murder trial, but said the judge can still ban actions he finds distracting.

The Jacksonville Times-Union has been live blogging from the murder trial of Rasheem Terrell and Tajuane Dubose, who are charged with the 2006 shooting death of 8-year-old DreShawna Davis. But last week, Circuit Judge L. Page Haddock said that the use of electronic devices was distracting to jurors and banned the use of laptops in the courtroom, essentially shutting down the blog.

The newspaper appealed the ruling and the 1st District Court of Appeal this week ordered the judge to allow the newspaper’s “reporter the use of a laptop computer in the courtroom unless the court finds a specific factual basis to conclude that such use cannot be accommodated without undue distraction or disruption.”

But ultimately, the appeals court left it up to the judge to decide on a case by case basis how much whirring, shutter clicking and keyboard clacking the parties and jurors can tolerate.

“The trial court retains the authority, however, to prohibit the use of any device which as a factual matter, the court finds causes a distraction to the jury or otherwise causes a disruption of proceedings,” the three judge panel wrote in the order.

According to the Times-Union, the Jacksonville judge has since revised his order, that will allow the newspaper’s reporter and photographer to be in the courtroom at the same time, but not allow them to blog and photograph simultaneously.

The issue has come up in other courtrooms throughout the country, but the rulings have varied by jurisdiction. In January 2009, a Boulder, Colorado judge said he would not ban blogging or the use of Twitter in the child abuse trial of Alex Midyette. But a federal court in Georgia ruled in November that rules governing federal criminal procedure ban broadcasting of trials, and extended that to Twitter.

The ruling, U.S. District Judge Clay Land wrote, did not infringe on the press’ right to report on the trial.

“The press certainly has a right of access to observe criminal trials, just as members of the public have the right to attend criminal trials,” Land wrote.

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