Photojournalist & Potential Juror Finds Himself Fighting For His First Amendment Rights

April 29, 2024  •  Leave a Comment

Screenshot 2024-04-29 210704Screenshot 2024-04-29 210704 Today, I found myself in the throes of the DC Superior Court's 4th floor, a public domain accessible to all. I was met with a sight that left me stunned - a sprawling line of hundreds of people, snaking its way through hallways and around corners. The line was filled with a diverse crowd, including elderly individuals with canes. The same shock that had initially gripped me was mirrored on the faces of those who joined the line after me.

Seizing the moment, I decided to document the scene through a quick livestream, starting from the end of the line to the Jurors office where registration was taking place. I made tried to respect the privacy of those in line by capturing only the backs of heads. The video was promptly posted on my company's Twitter page, a hub for breaking news stories.

However, this move was met with some resistance. A reader requested the removal of the video, to which I defended my first amendment right to post it. Unmoved, he reported the post to the court administration. I soon received a call from Douglas Buchanan, Director of Media and Public Relations - DC Courts, who requested the removal of the video to protect the potential jurors' privacy. I asked for any judicial order that prohibited such recordings, to which he responded by saying he would get back to me.

My day continued with my juror number being called, along with about 80 others, for a session with the Honorable Judge Raffinan. We were divided into groups for in person interviews. The Judge took a break for lunch explaining the few left from the first group would remain and the other groups would return at specific times.  I was part of the next group which was to return at 2:30.   As everyone else was dismissed, I was asked to stay back. Alone in the courtroom, I observed both attorneys approach the judge, engrossed in something on a phone. To my surprise, they were discussing my video footage of the Jurors standing in line.

The judge requested that I remove the footage and excused me from duty. I voiced my concerns about her request, emphasizing the public's right to know about the long waiting times and the need for public accountability. She assured me that my concerns would be addressed with the Chief Judge. I stood firm, asserting that the footage was meant to instigate change and hold people accountable.

Shortly after the video was published, the court swiftly acted to improve the situation, sending the remaining jurors to a lounge where they could sit and wait in groups. In the end, the judge clarified that it was only a request to remove the video and that I had been dismissed.

To sum up, the nearly two-hour wait for juror registration was a glaring issue that needed to be addressed. The court was ill-prepared to handle over 500 potential jurors, a problem that had been previously reported. However, the video served its purpose, shedding light on the issue and prompting immediate action. This incident will be brought to the attention of Chief Judge Anita M. Josey-Herring, I'm hopeful this situation does not recur. This victory is a testament to the power of the First Amendment and the potential for positive change.


 


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