Testing Court Broadcasting Ban, Podcaster Informs Judge of Upcoming Project

    A Baltimore podcaster and journalist is testing the state’s prohibition on publicly broadcasting audio recordings of court proceedings.

    Amelia McDonell-Parry is host of the upcoming season of Undisclosed, an investigative-reporting podcast focused on the criminal-justice system, who plans to use audio from the trials of Keith Davis Jr., a Columbia man imprisoned since 2015 on attempted robbery and murder charges. 

    Davis faces his fourth trial for the murder charge, after two mistrials and a court-ordered retrial; he has maintained his innocence after Baltimore Police and prosecutors charged him with the shooting death of Kevin Jones, a Pimlico security guard, near the racetrack in June 2015.

    McDonell-Parry plans to use excerpts of recordings from Davis’ prior trials to tell his story.

    The Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection at Georgetown University Law Center submitted a letter Tuesday to Baltimore City Circuit Court Chief Administrative Judge W. Michel Pierson, urging the judiciary not to enforce rules against the broadcast of recordings.

    Under the Maryland Code of Criminal Procedure, which prohibits “broadcast[ing] any criminal matter, including a trial, hearing, motion, or argument, that is held in trial court,” violators can be held in contempt of court.

    “We believe that it would be unlawful to enforce § 1-201 against Ms. McDonell-Parry or Undisclosed for including audio recordings of prior court proceedings on their podcast. The recordings accurately depict what occurred during public court proceedings, and Ms. McDonell-Parry obtained them lawfully under Rule 16-504(h)(1) of the Maryland Rules,” Nicolas Riley and Daniel Rice of the center wrote.

    While other states restrict the live-broadcasting of court proceedings, Maryland appears to be unique in prohibiting people from broadcasting publicly available court recordings, according to a news release from the Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.

    The letter also notes that the court has never imposed contempt sanctions on someone for violating the broadcast ban, but has publicly considered doing so on multiple occasions, including when audio excerpts from the criminal trial of Adnan Syed were used in producing the Serial podcast.

    “Maryland allows anyone in the world to obtain audio recordings of criminal trials, but its broadcasting ban stifles public discussion of those very same proceedings,” McDonell-Parry said.

    Allowing the use of the recordings is in the public interest and should be considered a First Amendment right, the lawyers wrote.

    “Baltimore’s court system is a matter of immense public interest, both locally and nationally,” Riley said in a statement. “Journalists cannot be punished for trying to shine a light on that system, especially when they are using publicly available recordings to do so.  In a moment of unprecedented attacks on the press, we should be deeply troubled by any efforts to punish journalists for exercising their First Amendment rights.”

    During the just-concluded General Assembly session, lawmakers considered a bill that would have allowed limited television and audio recording of criminal sentencing proceedings, but the measure was voted down by a majority of the House Judiciary Committee. After the legislature implemented the state’s ban on recording and broadcasting four decades ago, efforts to change aspects of the ban have repeatedly failed to pass.

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    Danielle E. Gaines
    Danielle Gaines most recently worked for Bethesda Beat covering Montgomery County. Previously, she spent six years at The Frederick News-Post as the paper’s principal government and politics reporter for half that time, covering courts and legal affairs before that. She also reported for the now-defunct The Gazette of Politics and Business in Maryland and previously worked as a county government and education reporter at the Merced Sun-Star in California’s Central Valley.