Reporters were informed today that the media will have limited access to a key hearing next week on State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s motion to dismiss the federal charges against her.
Stringent rules were set forth by a court official in a conference call with reporters that brought immediate protests from media organizations, including The Brew.
The chief deputy clerk for the U.S. District Court of Maryland, David E. Ciambruschini, said the press will be allotted three seats in the courtroom and seven seats will be made available for members of the public.
The seats would be available to credentialed reporters on a first-come, first-served basis.
No cameras, phones, recorders or other electronic devices will be permitted in the courtroom. Other seats in the room will be set aside for people affiliated with the two sides in the case.
Reporters on the call, organized by court officials to discuss coverage of the April 14 proceeding, were shocked to hear of the restriction.
Trials and hearings in high-profile cases often are heard in Courtroom 1A, the largest room at the Edward A. Garmatz Building, at 101 West Lombard Street, where U.S. District Court cases are held.
Earlier this week, District Judge Lydia Kay Griggsby granted Mosby’s request to delay her trial – on two counts of perjury and two counts of making false statements on loan applications – from early May to mid-September.
Courtroom 1A will be used as “overflow seating” for the hearing, with the actual proceedings held in Courtroom 5C, a smaller room.
Credentialed media and the public will be able to sit in the larger courtroom to watch the proceedings on a screen.
Under this scenario, off-camera activity in the hearing room will not be seen. Potential problems with the audio or the live feed also makes this less than optimal.
Warning to Reporters
Ciambruschini was unable to answer many of the questions from media participants on the call.
Asked who made the decision to allow only three members of the press in the courtroom, he called it “a court decision,” but later said the decision was made by “the presiding judge.”
Reporters thinking of contacting Judge Griggsby directly to ask about the unusual directive were explicitly warned not to do so.
All press communications and questions to the court are to be routed through him, Ciambruschini said, to be forwarded to Griggsby.
He noted that any member of the media who violates that directive “may be subject to being denied access to the courtroom.”
“You’re threatening us,” one reporter said on the call.
Any member of the media who tries to directly contact Judge Griggsby “may be subject to being denied access to the courtroom.”
Ciambruschini said concern about Covid-19 transmission was behind the room restrictions.
That assertion was questioned by reporters who have been covering this week’s federal trial of former Baltimore police detective Robert Hankard, who is accused of civil rights violations, planting evidence and lying to a grand jury.
“I wasn’t sitting six feet apart” from others in the room, Baltimore Banner reporter Justin Fenton said on today’s call.
Access decisions are made individually by the presiding judge, Ciambruschini told him.
Another question asked, but not answered on the call:
Whether the defendant, or her lawyers or associates, were involved in discussions about this press restriction or had initiated it.
Earlier Closed Hearing
Members of the media covering the Mosby case have been challenged to get access to some of the key activity on it.
For instance, the status hearing on Tuesday between the parties – which led to Griggsby’s order to postpone the trial until September – was conducted by teleconference and not open to the public.
The Brew has requested the transcript of the hearing.
We have also asked the court to explain why a number of documents filed in the case have been sealed, and have requested that the court release them.