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.
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.