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Recordings of court hearings must be available to all who ask, appeals court rules

A Baltimore Circuit Court order that had denied audio recordings of court proceedings to anyone but the parties involved has been invalidated.

Retired Court of Appeals Judge Irma S. Raker, appointed to hear a lawsuit filed by freelance journalist Justine Barron, said the Baltimore order, issued in April, directly conflicts with a Maryland rule that “creates a presumption of public access to copies of court audio recordings.”

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Barron, who has reported on the deaths of Freddie Gray and Detective Sean Suiter, sued Circuit Court Administrative Judge W. Michel Pierson after she was denied a copy of an audio recording of a hearing in April.

Although such recordings previously were available for a fee, Barron said in her complaint that when she arrived at the courthouse to pick up one that she had arranged to receive, she was told the policy had changed. She was given a copy of an order Pierson issued April 24 limiting recordings of proceedings to parties or attorneys involved in the case.

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Raker said in her ruling that the Maryland Court of Appeals had adopted the recordings policy “clearly... to permit all persons, not just parties to an action or attorneys in the case, to secure an audio copy of the court proceedings, subject to limited exceptions that do not apply here."

Raker issued the ruling late last month. Barron’s attorney, Daniel Rice of the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center, said he received it in the mail Tuesday.

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