NPR suing judges in challenge to Maryland's judicial broadcast ban

NPR suing judges in challenge to Maryland's judicial broadcast ban
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National Public Radio on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against two Maryland judges, claiming a state law that prohibits the broadcasting of "lawfully-obtained official court recordings" violates its constitutional rights.

NPR's suit was filed against 5th Judicial Circuit Associate Judge Glenn L. Klavans and 5th Judicial Circuit Administrative Judge Fred S. Hecker. As noted in the suit, both Klavans and Hecker have handled court proceedings under Maryland's broadcast ban.

NPR filed the lawsuit so that it could broadcast court recordings from the upcoming trial of Jarrod Ramos, the gunman who killed five journalists at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., in 2018. The news organization intends to broadcast the recordings on its podcast "Embedded."

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Ramos is scheduled to be sentenced Sept. 28.

"The Broadcast Ban is unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution because it punishes the broadcasting of lawfully obtained official court records, which are available to the general public," the attorneys for NPR wrote in its suit.

"The United States Supreme Court has long and consistently held that government restrictions on the publication of lawfully-obtained truthful information on matters of public concern are subject to the most intense judicial scrutiny," they added.

The station is asking that Maryland's broadcast ban be declared unconstitutional and that the two Maryland judges be barred from enforcing it when it comes to NPR broadcasting recordings from Ramos's trial.

NPR noted that it had sent a letter to the Office of the Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh (D) earlier this year in an attempt to avoid a lawsuit. Frosh's office ultimately declined to not enforce the state's Broadcast Ban.

"Because of the Office of the Maryland Attorney General’s position as expressed in its letter, NPR remains concerned that it may be subject to contempt proceedings under Section 1-201 and therefore requires the protection of this Court," the news outlet said.

The broadcast ban "imposes a substantial and unconstitutional burden on NPR’s ability to freely report the news and convey stories to its listeners by way of its audio journalism," it added.

"It requires NPR to choose between publishing lawfully-obtained criminal trial court recordings while risking being held in contempt of court, or to refrain from publishing lawfully-obtained criminal trial court recordings for fear of being held in contempt. The Broadcast Ban therefore creates a chilling effect on journalism that violates the First Amendment," it concluded.

This is not the first time the ban has faced legal challenges; in 2019, a group of Maryland journalists and community organizers filed a federal lawsuit challenging the rule, also arguing that the ban violated constitutional rights of freedom of speech and freedom of press.