Media fights NV judge rules in Denison murder case
Associated Press Writer
RENO – News organizations in Reno are challenging limits on media coverage of next week’s trial for the man accused of killing 19-year-old Brianna Denison and sexually assaulting two other women.
Lawyers for a Reno newspaper and TV station were scheduled to go before Washoe District Judge Robert Perry Friday afternoon. They say the limits on photographs and courthouse interviews violate the First Amendment.
Perry has said he is worried about pretrial publicity in the two-year-old case as well as the safety of some of the witnesses.
The judge issued an order last week that bans photographs of James Biela’s ex-girlfriend when she testifies against the accused killer, as well as anyone else on the witness stand who is not a law officer or does not qualify as an expert witness.
In addition, he wants to prohibit interviews on some courthouse sidewalks near the door where jurors will enter and exit each day.
“The court has concerns not only about safety but also about the possibility of jurors … overhearing interviews or being inadvertently filmed or photographed,” Perry said in an order last week.
Lawyers for the Reno Gazette-Journal and KRNV-TV said the practical effect of the order would be to largely eliminate their ability to conduct timely, candid interviews with trial participants.
“This would seem to not only unreasonably limit the RGJ’s First Amendment right of access to these criminal proceedings in question, but would also unfairly deprive the public of a critical source of information regarding the progress of the trial,” Scott Glogovac said in a letter to the judge on Tuesday on behalf of the newspaper.
“This is particular true given the fact that the sidewalks in question is public property freely open to pedestrians and that the public sidewalks outside the courthouses are frequently the location of legally protected expressions of First Amendment rights in the community,” he wrote.
Both media outlets have policies that prohibit photographing active jurors as well as taking pictures or publishing names of any victims of sexual assault, the lawyers said.
“But at this point, a general preclusion of photographing all law witnesses, regardless of their identification or media exposure in previous proceedings in this matter, and absent any demonstrated actual need for protection, would appear to be overboard and in violation of the RGJ’s constitutional right of access to the upcoming proceedings,” Glogovac said.
While KRNV-TV will ensure anonymity of any sexual assault victims, it wants the right to record their testimony and electronically alter the voice for possible broadcast, said Douglas Hill, a lawyer for the NBC affiliate that is owned by Sunbelt Communications Inc.
“The statements of witnesses are an important part of any trial and necessary to portray the trial proceedings accurately to citizens. Television is a visual and auditory medium and the limitation is unreasonable for our use.”
It wasn’t clear if Perry would rule on their requests at the close of the hearing on the media requests scheduled to begin Friday at 1:30 p.m.
Jury selection starts Monday for the trial is expected to last three weeks.