The live-streaming, online broadcast of jury trials in Quincy District Court, set to begin in July, has been put on hold as the opponents and proponents of the project wait to hear a Supreme Judicial Court justice's decision on whether the new venture can continue.
Although OpenCourt, the brainchild of Boston University’s WBUR, has been live streaming from Quincy District Court’s First Session since May 2011, recently Quincy Justice Mark Coven granted the organization permission to begin live streaming jury trials.
The news didn’t sit well with Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey, who requested that the organization hold off on the expansion until the Supreme Judicial Court, or the judiciary-media committee under the Supreme Judicial Court, reviewed the guidelines for trial streaming.
The committee was established for that very purpose after a similar lawsuit was brought to the SJC against OpenCourt earlier this year.
“The SJC has asked for rules and guidelines for the project. We believe it makes sense to await the rules and guidelines before trying to implement something absent rules and guidelines,” District Attorney spokesperson David Traub said in a phone interview.
"It's not that I'm opposed to televising the court sessions, I just want to protect victims and witnesses to make sure they et their day in court and I don’t want to see the expansion of coverage until we have ruled and regu in place, which is what the supreme court has suggested," Morrissey added in a phone call. "I'm not opposed, I just don’t like going to court and suing people, I just want people to know the rules we are playing by."
Regardless of the request, OpenCourt decided to go ahead with the July 16 deadline, and subsequently issued a letter to the District Attorney informing him so.
In response, Morrissey filed a lawsuit in Superior Court against the judges of Quincy District Court to delay the court from moving the cameras into jury trial rooms until the measures to do so had been overlooked by the courts.
Among the concerns, “prosecutors will be obligated to notify all victims and witnesses that proceedings will be live-streamed and that recordings will be available over the Internet for perpetuity. Once advised, there is a risk that victims and witnesses will decide not to testify whether because of privacy or safety issues, embarrassment, or other reasons,” the complaint states.
"Speaking in behalf of victims, I might run afoul of the media…but it's part of the job," Morrissey said. "I hoped to avoid that kind of conflict if everyone knew the ruels of the game, and we’d be better off…so I'm hoping the supreme court will move quickly."
Similarly, the Committee for Public Counsel Services, the state agency responsible for providing legal counsel to indigent clients, also filed a complaint for injunctive relief against Quincy District Court, citing the same concerns as Morrissey.
Attorneys for both the District Court and the District Attorney’s office agreed to prohibit the expanded coverage until the single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, where the case was moved to, has had a chance to address the issues raised.
OpenCourt objected to the agreement, and to voice their objections requested in a memo to the court to intervene in the case on its own behalf. Additionally, they dismissed the concerns of project opponents.
“The overwhelming majority of the DA’s arguments against allowing OpenCourt to cover jury trials are directed to hypothetical scenarios that – if they should arise in the future – can be addressed by a trial judge in a position to evaluate such arguments,” Open Court stated in a memo.
John Davidow, executive editor for new media at WBUR, could not immediately be reached for comment.
This isn’t the first time the OpenCourt project has been brought to court.
OpenCourt initially ran into controversy with the DA in the first month they were live, after the media organization covered a dangerousness hearing of an alleged human trafficker Norman Barnes, who was accused of kidnapping a teenage girl and forcing her into prostitution.
Morrissey wanted the recording of the hearing kept off the website because the girl’s full name, names of relatives, and other personal information was disclosed numerous times during the hearing, despite a judge’s orders that identifying information should not be disclosed.
In a separate incident, defendant Charles Diorio wanted to ban the posting of his arraignment that occurred on July 5, saying that the charges, which included kidnapping and armed assault in a dwelling, could prejudice him in the prosecution of a separate violent crime in Chelsea.
The cases eventually made it to the Supreme Judicial Court, where in a consolidated decision, the court ruled in favor of OpenCourt, saying that a District Court could not issue orders requiring redactions to OpenCourt’s archived audiovisual recordings and that the company could continue to live stream events in the Court.
At the time, Davidow said he would delete references to the teen when the organization posted the Barnes hearing video, but welcomed the ability for the organization to make that determination themselves.
Within the decision, however, the SJC asked its judiciary-media committee to craft rules that will guide both judges and media for future court hearings.
That committee is currently formulating the rules and regulations, and more committee members are being added at the District Attorney’s request.
Until that time, however, Traub said it would be unwise to allow unfiltered coverage of a large variety of trials without first understanding the consequences of doing so.
“It’s fair to say that the case that went to the SJC was about identifying information of a juvenile rape victim and human trafficking victim was live cast. That is what brought the conversation forward and precipitated [the court’s] request for draft rules. We’re awaiting them; they have not yet been formulated,” he said.
There is no scheduled date when the SJC will hear the arguments in this latest case.