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Reporter sues Baltimore City Circuit Court administrative judge over denial of audio recording of proceedings

A freelance journalist who has reported on the deaths of Freddie Gray and Detective Sean Suiter has sued the administrative judge of Baltimore City Circuit Court after being denied a copy of an audio recording of a hearing.

Justine Barron said in her complaint that she went to the courthouse April 24 to pick up a copy of the recording she had previously requested. She was told the policy had changed and copies of audio recordings made of court proceedings would no longer be provided to those not involved in the case, the complaint said.

Barron’s complaint said she was given an order signed April 24 by Administrative Judge W. Michel Pierson that said “no copies of audio recordings maintained by the Office of the Court Reporter shall be made available to persons other than parties to the relevant proceeding or counsel to the relevant proceeding.”

Copies of audio recordings had been available from the court for a fee, and video recordings could be viewed at the courthouse. Maryland law, however, prohibits the broadcast of criminal proceedings.

Barron said she has not violated the broadcast ban, although she has worked in the past with the “Undisclosed” podcast, which has used trial audio. “That may be what triggered them to deny my request,” Barron said.

The ban became an issue in a podcast and a documentary on the conviction of Adnan Syed for the 1999 murder of his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, when they were students at Woodlawn High School. The popular podcast, “Serial,” which brought renewed interest in the case, included audio from his trial, prompting court officials to consider holding its creators in contempt.

But they took no action after “Serial” producer Sarah Koenig said she was unaware of the ban on airing the audio, had received incorrect legal advice on the state rules and promised not to broadcast tapes of proceedings in the future.

In March, HBO debuted a four-part documentary, “The Case Against Adnan Syed,” that featured video footage from the trial. Pierson sent HBO a letter that it should “immediately cease any broadcasting of Maryland criminal trials,” but the network told The Baltimore Sun it had obtained the footage lawfully, and “the First Amendment protects the filmmaker’s right to include it in the documentary.”

Court officials have not responded to Barron’s lawsuit. A Maryland Judiciary spokeswoman said it does not comment on pending litigation but that both the media and members of the public could still listen to and view recordings at the courthouse.

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

twitter.com/jean_marbella

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