Journalist's Guide

Sealed Records/Files A final word of caution: be aware of sealed records within the court file. Opening taped envelopes without the judge’s permission can be hazardous to your reputation and career. Practical Tips for Covering the Courts • Watch what you say around jurors and witnesses. It is natural to talk about what just went on in court but during courtroom breaks, reporters, jurors and witnesses sometimes share the same hallway, elevators, restrooms and cafeterias. If jurors or witnesses overhear your conversations, a mistrial could result. • While court is in session you must abide by the judge’s rules. Some will prohibit anyone from leaving the courtroom until and unless there is a recess. Others will allow reporters and the public in and out of the courtroom as needed. Whatever the guidelines – and this includes where reporters/artists sit – you must abide by them. Any significant problems can be directed to the court’s administrative judge. • If permitted to bring them in, don’t let your electronic devices sound in court. This rule is rigorously enforced by the deputies and bailiffs and if you violate the rule you may end up having to pick up your device at the end of the court day. Try to determine the rules of the court before you get there – whether you can use an electronic device to take notes and where you must sit and whether you can even use a device in court hallways. Courts are more anxious about the use of electronic equipment in and around their buildings than they have ever been. See Maryland Rule 16-208 for the latest Maryland court policy on the possession and use of electronic devices in court buildings and courtrooms. • Do not conduct interviews in any part of the courtroom while court is in session. • Never take photographs in the courtroom or even in the courthouse without permission. • The courthouse is a public building and the hallways are public areas. You have the right to request interviews, and participants in a trial have a right to refuse them. • You are permitted to read public documents relating to the case you are covering and may request them from the court clerk during a break in the trial. • Introduce yourself to the attorneys and check with them periodically on the status of any motions and the trial itself (e.g., the number of witnesses they plan to present, length of their presentations, the trial and hearing schedules). • There is no substitute for personal contact with the attorneys and parties prior to, during or even after the trial. • Dates, times and locations of proceedings constantly change and such changes may not be reflected in the online dockets. Confirm the proceedings with the attorneys, the court clerk or the judge before you head to the courthouse. • Courtroom personnel can help you do your job and will appreciate your courtesy. (This rule can’t be stressed enough!)


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