Court: No First Amendment right to audio recordings of court proceedings when there's a printed transcript
The Supreme Judicial Court ruled today a filmmaker making a documentary about a Somerville cop convicted of child rape has no right to a stenographer's audio recording of the trial because he was able to buy a copy of the official transcript she produced.
At issue is recordings made during the trial of Keith Winfield, a Somerville police officer convicted in 2007 burning and raping his infant niece with a hot object while he babysat her.
Steve Audette, a film producer, is currently making a documentary that, according to the Supreme Judicial Court "will examine, among other things, [the defendant's] continued assertion of innocence in light of the evidence presented at trial." After he bought a copy of the official printed transcript, he asked for copies of the "room recording" she had used to check the accuracy of her transcription.
Audette argued he had a right to the recording under both his First Amendment and "the common-law right of access to judicial records."
However, the state's highest court said that the judicial record in question is the official transcript, not a recording used to compile it:
While the right of access of the public to a trial may ensure access to a room recording that, because of the absence of a court reporter, is the official record of the trial, it does not apply to a backup room recording where, as here, a court reporter prepared a certified transcript of the trial that constitutes the official record of the trial.
The court added:
Where the court file includes or reflects an official record of the proceeding, whether that be a certified transcript or an electronic recording made by the session clerk, we conclude that a room recording does not satisfy this test. Where an official record of the proceeding is available to the public, a presumption of public access to an unofficial record is more likely to generate public confusion than to aid public understanding. The appropriate vehicle for the public to monitor court proceedings is the official record, not a backup room recording that is used to assist in ensuring the accuracy of the official record.