The Christian Science Monitor says a court security officer barred its reporter from interviewing a prosecutor in the Miami courtroom where alleged Al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla and two codefendants are being tried. If during a court recess, reporters approach a defense lawyer or prosecutor in the courtroom with a question, they risk being whisked away by security officials. The ban on media questions extends to the lobby outside U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke’s courtroom and chambers.
Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press says that orders regarding “courtroom decorum” must come from the judge, not from courtroom officials enforcing an unwritten rule. “In general, there has to be a reason for it, and it has to be on the record, and it has to be reasonable. It can’t be more invasive of your First Amendment right to speak to people than is absolutely necessary to maintain order in the courthouse.” Eugene Volokh, a professor at UCLA law school, says the key test is whether the restrictions are reasonable. “The big picture is that the courthouse is government property and a wide range of restrictions are permissible on government property that wouldn’t be permissible elsewhere,” he says.