As a Jacksonville criminal lawyer, I see news crews and reporters in an around the Duval County Courthouse and jail often. This is not usual considering that many news stories come from criminal conduct in the area. The Michael Dunn murder trial and Jordan Davis’ death drew a large amount of national media attention to the area. This created problems with the media’s access to the courtroom. Last December, the Florida First District Court of Appeals ruled on public access to court records in the Dunn trial. The Florida appellate court reversed Judge Healey’s “order limiting the amount of materials that can be released to the public in” the Michael Dunn-Jordan Davis murder trial. The appellate court unanimously found that the judge “could not keep records from the public for up to 30 days after the prosecution hands them over to the defense.” The First District Court of Appeals based it’s ruling on the Florida statutes which “mandate that when materials — known as ‘discovery’ — are shared by law between the prosecution and defense in a criminal case, they become public record.” Read Reversal in Michael Dunn’s Jacksonville Criminal Case on the Jacksonville lawyers website for more on the story.
The Michael Dunn case is headed back to the appellate court. This is not due to motions filed by Jacksonville criminal attorneys involved in the case. Instead, the media is arguing for better courtroom access. First Coast News released this:
“The petitioners – which include First Coast News and The Florida Times Union – argue that reporters and media were not given access to the courtroom during jury selection in the Michael Dunn trial. Not only were reporters initially denied access to the primary courtroom, media lawyers contend video of jury selection wasn’t available and the audio feed to the overflow courtroom was poor. Judge Russell Healey has said there was not enough room to allow for media in the courtroom during the early stages of jury selection, although he did allow four media representatives in on the second day, after hearing from media attorneys. However, media was excluded from the final stages of jury selection when the eventual 12 jurors and for alternates were selected. Lawyers for First Coast News and The Florida Times-Union argue media has a First Amendment right to be present during trials, even during jury selection — a right affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.”
While I understand the media’s position, I also understand the court’s concern. I have conducted enough jury selections to know that it is hard for potential jurors to open up to a Jacksonville criminal lawyer or Duval County prosecutor without news cameras present. If the jurors will not speak with the lawyers, we cannot pick a jury.