First, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked a video stream of the federal trial about the constitutionality of California's law banning gay marriage. The order effectively put the kibosh on the trial judge's decision to allow the trial to be shown on YouTube on a time-delayed basis.
Then, Thursday, a judge in Florida decided mid-trial to stop a Times-Union reporter from continuing to live blog an ongoing capital murder trial. The original order specifically banned the use of a laptop "for purposes of communicating with the outside world" and also banned some cameras from the courtroom.
Today the judge modified the order to authorize the use of electronic media -- but only on a limited basis. The Times-Union is interpreting the new order as allowing it to alternate between taking still photos and live blogging in the case, in which three brothers are on trial for the shooting death of an 8-year-old girl.
The paper filed an appeal this afternoon -- and rightfully so. The newspaper argues that the reporter should be allowed to take notes on her laptop and blog regardless of whether a photographer is present in court.
The judge originally justified the ruling on the theory that electronic media was causing a distraction. But it's hard to imagine how using a laptop is distracting -- not when lawyers, reporters and stenographers routinely take notes on laptops or other electronic devices in courthouses throughout the country. Additionally, the reporter in this case said she was seated in the next-to-last row of the court -- where any keyboard noises were well out of earshot of the jurors.
Before the blog was shut down, it drew more than 1,300 readers, demonstrating that many more local residents are interested in the Florida murder trial than are attending it in person. Ditto Proposition 8, which has drawn intense national attention.
Any technology that allows greater public access -- via video streams, blogs or other real-time accounts of trials -- should be welcomed by the court system. Instead, judges seem inexplicably determined to limit people's ability to access publicly funded proceedings. Hopefully the appellate court in Florida will step in and immediately restore the newspaper's ability to live blog the trial.