WBUR

DA Seeks To Halt WBUR’s OpenCourt Online Video

BOSTON — Update at 12:15 p.m.
Justice Margot Botsford has decided that the full Supreme Judicial Court should decide the case.

Original post:

One of the state’s top judges is set to hear arguments Thursday about WBUR’s pilot program to post court hearings online.

The program, called OpenCourt, is meant to give greater access to the courts, but the Norfolk County District Attorney is raising concerns that posting court hearings could actually harm victims and taint the judicial process.

What prompted this hearing is the case of a 15-year-old girl who was allegedly abducted in May and forced into prostitution over a two-week period.

The judge ruled that OpenCourt could live-stream the dangerousness hearing for the alleged abductor, Norman Barnes.

During that hearing at Quincy District Court, the defense attorney named the victim twice and gave information that could be used to identify her, such as the name of her school.

Because of that, Norfolk County District Attorney Michael Morrissey sought to block WBUR from posting and archiving the hearing footage online. He argued the posting would give “unfettered and perpetual access” to the hearing, which he said could cause “exponential” harm to the victim and damage the ongoing criminal investigation.

John Davidow, who oversees OpenCourt, says WBUR is concerned about victims, too.

“WBUR never had and never would publish (the) kind of material that would identify a juvenile victim, but that’s the decision of a responsible news organization,” Davidow said.

The key issue, Davidow said, is whether a judge or a news organization should be able to decide what information gets published from a public court hearing.

Davidow notes that other journalists have done stories about the same proceedings.

“Is anybody accusing those reporters of tainting the juries, of creating difficulties with the judicial process?” Davidow asked. “I’m not sure I see any difference.”

The Norfolk County DA’s office has declined requests for an interview, but Morrissey said in a statement that while he has pushed for open government, “we should not be hurting victims in the process.”

In court documents, Morrissey argues it would be better for WBUR to use victimless crimes, such as drunk driving, in the pilot project.

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  • Dana

    I think you know the difference, Mr. Davidow, between reporting what happens in the courtroom and live streaming it.  There is information that gets redacted from a court transcript before it is made public — yet you want to have that information streamed and archived.  It adds nothing to the public understanding of the justice system, and the fact that you’ve picked a prostitution case simply shows that you are interested in pushing this issue in cases that give you a news boost.  At the moment, I see little difference between WBUR and Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World, and I am rethinking whether I want to be a member of this station or contribute to the direction in which it is heading.  

    • Laura

      Dana, I think you should visit the OpenCourt.us website as part of your “rethinking.”  There, you can find out that they didn’t “pick” a prostitution case, as you state, but are streaming the first session courtroom in Quincy District Court.  They also have published guidelines about what will and won’t be archived, and note that they will “delay the availability of the archived material for two business days to allow for the redaction of specific problematic items e.g. the “blurting” of a minor victim’s name.” As Mr. Davidow states, WBUR is a responsible news organization and, as such, would never publish information that could be used to identify a juvenile victim.  If you do a little research, I think you will find plenty of differences between the late but hardly lamented News of the World, and an organization that is aiming for more understading of and accessibility to our judicial system.

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