No pictures, Sir!

Anyone familiar with legal news stories appearing in the Sun Sentinel over the last six or seven years may recognize their courthouse beat reporter Rafael Olmeda.  The picture above accompanies Rafael’s articles online, whether concerning the Parkland tragedy, the murder trial du jour, or bailiff Roger DeHart’s ongoing 1065 mile trek to help raise awareness about human trafficking.  Rafael’s around the courthouse for hours on end on a daily basis, and recognizable to most criminal lawyers and judges, with the exception of Bobby Diaz.

Today he stopped by Diaz’s assigned division to see the latest developments in the case of State v. Mark Good, involving extremely serious allegations of inappropriate touching during a massage.  The police report is found here.

The SAO, having decided not to appeal Diaz’s denial of the Motion to Disqualify filed over the Miss issue after-all, instead took the opportunity today to ask Diaz to send the case to another judge “in the interest of justice“.  Apparently, after having reviewed audio of the interaction between the judge and the ASA featuring use of the term “Miss” in lieu of proper names, the family didn’t want to go any further on such a sensitive matter with Diaz at the helm.  Defense did not object to the transfer request, but it was still denied, followed by a quick dismissal of the charges by the State with victim assent.

During the hearing, Olmeda attempted to take a picture of Diaz, but was rebuffed by the judge, who told him he needed permission to take photographs, even after Olmeda identified himself as a reporter.  Rafael complied with the order, leaving everyone familiar with well-settled laws concerning media coverage of state courts and the 17th Circuit’s Administrative Order Governing Media scratching their heads.

Accordingly, the following email was sent to Jack Tuter and Diaz:

This morning I was a witness to the proceedings in State v. Mark Good, in Judge Diaz’s assigned division. At one point during the proceedings, Rafael Olmeda, the long serving courthouse reporter for the Sun Sentinel, wearing proper identification, attempted to take a still photograph of Judge Diaz. Mr. Olmeda was silent, as was his camera, and in no way, shape, or form disruptive to the proceedings. Despite the fact there were no other cameras in the courtroom, still or video, Judge Diaz addressed Mr. Olmeda directly, and precluded him from taking any photographs. Judge Diaz stated words to the effect that his permission was needed in order for news media to take a photograph, and Mr. Olmeda complied by not taking any photographs, as it was immediately apparent that no permission would be forthcoming.

After the hearing, I reviewed Administrative Order No. 2018-3-Gen Governing Media, and was not surprised, given prevailing laws, to see that there does not seem to be a provision for a major media representative to seek permission from a judge before photographing a proceeding. While there is language to the effect about a judge deciding where a photographer shall position him or herself, this was clearly not the issue that occurred in court today, which audio of the events will confirm.

I will be writing about this issue tonight, and would appreciate comment as to whether Judge Diaz was correct in his order, or whether given the governing law, the administrative order, and Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.450, an injustice has occurred. Lastly, if the latter has occurred, what is the proposed remedy, and what, if anything, will be done to ensure the events of this morning will not be repeated in the future?

Here is Tuter’s response:

I spoke to the Judge. Had the Judge known it was a sun sentinel reporter there of course would have been no problem. Rafael has been in my courtroom and taken pictures and so he knows it is permitted. It was an obvious misunderstanding. Had Judge Diaz known it was a someone from the Sentinel it would have been no problem. 

The issue in the AO relating to photographs concerns non-media type persons taking photos on cell phones. 

The presiding Judge always has the  final say on courtroom decorum. I hope this will not be blown out of proportion. Any media photographer can advise the deputy or the clerk to communicate this to the judge so he/she knows they will be taking photos. All recognized media with credentials are always permitted to take pictures in courtrooms as long as it does not disrupt the proceedings. 

Simple communication to the judge through the bailiff or clerk would seem to alleviate any concerns. I trust this helps to clear the questions you posed.

As always I am interested in any issue my office can help to clarify. I appreciate you bringing this to my attention. I will communicate to all judges media credentialed photographers always have the right to take still photos in our courtrooms(.)

And our reply, in part:

To my recollection, Mr. Olmeda did identify himself as either “media” or “Sun Sentinel” in response to Judge Diaz’s comments.  In any event, there were no follow-up questions as to which outlet he worked for before the order was issued, and he was holding a large camera, not a cell phone.  Shouldn’t Judge Diaz have asked which outlet he was from?

We’ll be sure to update after the audio is obtained, and when Tuter or Diaz respond …

 Travels with Roger …
Roger DeHart made it through Volusia County today … well done!
The future is now – one of two circuit criminal courtrooms we visited today where the court reporter is history, and the Little Blue Man is here to stay …
Strike three for Destry – after two angry articles and a complaint to the Florida Bar, he’s been told by Tallahassee what everyone else already knew: JAABLOG is not breaking any rules.  Read the letter carefully.  The language about “publication of defamatory posts” is included because of misrepresentations to the Bar by Destry in his complaint.  Some things never change, including the fact that Matt, who likes to throw the word “coward” around, has yet to respond to any of our emails or the message left on his voicemail this afternoon seeking comment on the Bar’s actions …
Retired means retired – we’re not exactly sure who’s responsible, but under Tuter and Brenda Forman, judges who lose an election or resign in disgrace are no longer honored as “Retired Judges” by getting their picture displayed in the jury room.  Sorry again, Matt …
Qualifying is around the corner – whether or not surprises are on the horizon, expect judicial movement after May 4th when administration will know for sure which judges are safe for at least another six years.  We’re betting on Merrilee Ehrlich making it official soon thereafter as well …