Covering the Courts Your local courthouse is a treasure trove of public records and public happenings. You can walk right in and observe virtually any proceeding and examine the documents in practically every court file. Unfortunately, there may be some in your courthouse who may not know that reporters, like all other members of the public, are entitled to see all public documents. First, you should know that you don’t always need to go to the courthouse to start covering a case. The Maryland Judiciary’s “Case Search” (casesearch.courts.state.md.us) offers an indispensable resource to help fill in your “five W’s” and plan your coverage by providing enough information about the parties, locations, motions, court orders and future and past proceedings. (Be aware, however, the site itself notes its information “may not always reflect the information contained within the official case file.”) When you go to court, it is, with a few exceptions, including some juvenile proceedings, your right to be present and to take notes during court proceedings, including trials and hearings. In fact, many Circuit Courts reserve rows close to the front for attorneys, families of litigants and the media. Just ask if you are not sure where to sit. You have no obligation to explain to a questioning sheriff’s deputy why you are in a particular courtroom, unless the hearing is restricted or closed. However, the law does not allow you to record the sound or photograph or take video without special permission of a judge. [Maryland law prohibits the use of cameras in courtrooms in all criminal cases; in civil cases, it provides for a judge to permit one pool television camera, and one still camera, at the judge’s discretion. See the chapter on Cameras and Microphones in the Courtroom.] Courtroom sketch artists are also permitted in court. You also have the right to be present during jury selection. Some deputies are not aware of this and, because of courtroom space constraints or the practices of some judges, will occasionally order out all but potential jurors. If you want to cover jury selection, tell the deputy and judge it is your right to be there, and you should be allowed in. If they still refuse to allow your presence, immediately contact the administrative judge of the Circuit Court in which the trial is being held. Court Records Court records include documents, information, exhibits and other things the court maintains in connection with a case. These records are organized into a case file. The files are maintained by a clerk’s office at each courthouse. Court records are generally open to the public but there are several exceptions to this general rule. Additionally, all cases are assigned case numbers so keep handy the numbers of the cases you are following. This section describes how to access court records, as well as some considerations to keep in mind. If you're going to cover a particular court, familiarize yourself with its administrative structure and docketing practices. You should also find out whether the court is in a Maryland Electronic Court (MDEC) jurisdiction (pronounced M-Deck).
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