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NPR has right to use audio from Capital Gazette shooting trial, federal judge rules

National Public Radio won a portion of its lawsuit Tuesday against two Maryland judges in which it challenged the state’s broadcast ban on court proceedings.

U.S. District Court Judge Richard D. Bennett ruled that in the case of NPR’s podcast, Embedded, the broadcast ban is unconstitutional.

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“Defendants fail to show that broadcasting NPR’s podcast would endanger witnesses or undermine the fairness of the criminal proceedings against Jarrod Ramos,” Bennett wrote in the opinion.

The radio network filed the lawsuit at the beginning of September against Anne Arundel Circuit Judge Glenn Klavans and Administrative Circuit Judge Fred S. Hecker, focusing on the right to broadcast audio recordings of the trial of the Capital Gazette shooter. The suit also covered broader issues, claiming that the ban violates the First and 14th amendments of the Constitution.

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The Maryland Code forbids anyone, including the media, from broadcasting official court recordings of state criminal court proceedings that were lawfully obtained from the court itself.

Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, John McNamara, Rebecca Smith and Wendi Winters were gunned down in the Capital Gazette newsroom in June 2018 by Ramos, who pleaded guilty but not criminally responsible last year. In July, after a two-week trial, he was found to have been responsible. He is set to be sentenced next Tuesday and is facing five life sentences without the possibility of parole.

NPR says it plans to air an episode of the “Embedded” podcast, focused on the trial, Sept. 30, and wants to air recordings that it obtained from the court. Late last month, it sought assurances from the Maryland Attorney General’s Office that contempt charges would not be brought if it aired the recordings, and was told no such assurances could be made.

While this ruling allows NPR to use audio from the Capital Gazette shooting trial, it does not yet open the door for other cases.

The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in June that the ban is constitutionally suspect, and sent the issue back to a lower court for more hearings. The appeals court challenge is speared by Baltimore-area journalists and organizations.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.

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