The story’s bigger scoop lies behind the scenes. It carries a photo of something going in inside a D.C. Superior Court courtroom.
That’s a no-no. According to the “Journalists’ Handbook to the Courts in the District of Columbia,” “Cameras and audio recorders are not allowed in either D.C. courthouse without special advance permission and usually limited to a particular event, not a court hearing.”
Courthouse management has an image problem with the Washington Times:
The DC Superior Court does not allow photographs to be taken inside the courthouse, a rule which is posted on signs at the entrances and reiterated in the Chief Judge’s Administrative Order 11-17 and in the Journalists Guide to Courts in the District of Columbia. The Washington Times’ photo appears to be in violation of this court order, a matter we are taking very seriously.
So is the Washington Times. Miller didn’t defy the courthouse rule out of some core belief in her constitutional right to judicial photographs, says Editorial Page Editor Brett Decker. It was just an oversight:
Emily Miller had never been to the court before except for jury duty. She didn’t know the no photo rule, nor saw any signs posted. She stood up openly in the front of the court and took a photo of Sgt. Corrigan and his attorney, who were cooperating with her story. When an officer of the court came over and told her to stop, she put down her iPhone. It was a simple mistake by a hardworking journalist and does not reflect any policy of any kind.
A reasonable explanation, and a pleasant turn to actually get an answer from the Washington Times after weeks of stonewalling from New York Ave. on other matters.
Though Decker accounts for why Miller took the photograph, it’s still unclear why the Washington Times published the thing. After all, it does violate the rules and it’s not exactly prize-winning material, given that it captures 100 percent of the tedium involved in the average court hearing. If staid shots of guys in suits standing near tables are your thing, have a look.
Miller does the public a service, however. Her transgression raises the question of just what the court can do after its rules have been violated. Can it demand the photo be taken down? Can it bar Miller from reentry? Hard to imagine. Vaunted courthouse Administrative Order 11-17 states that “a person who willfully violates this procedure or any reasonable limitation imposed by the presiding judicial officer may be found in civil or criminal contempt of court and may be sanctioned.”
A more likely response to future violations would be a check-your-devices-at-the-door policy. And the best scenario would be for the courthouse to just bag the camera prohibitions altogether.