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#OpenNYCourts: Open Courts In Colorado Anything But Rocky - 07/08/13

Monday 7/8/13, Noon --- 13WHAM Anchor/Reporter Adam Chodak spent four years reporting for KUSA in Denver, Colorado.  This is his first #OpenNYCourts blog that looks at how other states accommodate media/public requests for courtroom access.  Cameras are allowed inside Colorado courtrooms.

Tim Masters walked out of the Larimer County Courthouse a free man. He had spent 10 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. Cameras captured those first steps just as they had captured the countless appeals hearings leading up to that charged moment.
You see, in Colorado, where I worked for 4 years, it would be unheard of for an appellate court to deny a news organizations request to have a camera in the court. That request is called an Expanded Media Coverage, or EMC, request.
Filing an EMC request for the Tim Masters hearings was just as easy as filing an EMC request for advisements, arraignments, a trial and any subsequent sentencing.
The request would go to the judge, the prosecutor and the defense attorney. As in New York, the judge in Colorado has the final say. Journalists sometimes have to play lawyer and argue their case before the court. Nearly all my requests were granted, but judges retained the right to revoke access or restrict it.
Judges were even more tolerant of social media. All the judges in Larimer and Weld Counties allowed me to Tweet and post updates to Facebook throughout a hearing or trial. This was never challenged. None of the parties saw any harm.  The jurors were phone-free in the courtroom so how could my instant reporting do anything but inform the public?
Tim Masters was just one of many high-profile Colorado cases in which an EMC was granted.
Others included cases involving James Holmes (Aurora theater shooting), Willie Clark (Darrent Williams murder), Ward Churchill, Kobe Bryant, and Balloon Boys dad, Richard Heene.
The judges in those cases simply did not accept the argument that one pool camera standing quietly in the corner would promote a circus-like atmosphere, which, in turn, would sway the jury.
The spokesperson for the Colorado Judicial Department, Rob McCallum, thinks within about 5 minutes the camera becomes just like any other inanimate object in the courtroom. Truth be told, the only source of annoyance would sometimes come from a loud shutter on a print photographers still camera.
Because of this access those Coloradoans too busy working to sit and watch a trial, were able to see their judicial system in action.New Yorkers, in most cases, do not have that luxury.

---Adam Chodak

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