The ruling, written by Justice Nels Peterson, does not forbid court reporters or judges from sharing recordings of open court proceedings with podcasts or members of the news media. But it gives court officials the right to turn down the requests whenever they want to.
In recent years, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has been granted access to copy stenographers’ recordings to use in Seasons 1 and 4 of the newspaper’s “Breakdown” podcast.
“In criminal cases, the court reporters who make the audio recordings are typically paid with taxpayer dollars,” the Georgia First Amendment Foundation said in a statement. “The public should get the benefit of that expenditure.”
The state Supreme Court should require audio recordings to be filed with the court, the foundation said. “Then, under the logic of the court’s decision, the public and press would be able to obtain copies of them.”
Law professor Colin Miller, a host of the Undisclosed podcast. (University of South Carolina School of Law)
“Undisclosed” sought to use the audio so its listeners could hear testimony in the murder trial of Joey Watkins. Watkins is serving a life sentence, but the podcast has raised questions as to whether Watkins was wrongly convicted in the killing of Isaac Dawkins.
“We are, of course, disappointed with the court’s ruling … because Undisclosed’s audience will not get the benefit of listening to the trial,” said Atlanta lawyer James Cobb, who represents the podcast.
“It is ultimately up to individual judges and court reporters to decide whether they want to make recordings available, and we would urge all judges and court reporters to do so,” Cobb said.
University of South Carolina law professor Colin Miller, one of the hosts of "Undisclosed," also expressed disappointment the court rejected the podcast's arguments. But Miller praised the court for ruling separately that members of the public not only have access to official court records, they also now have a clearly established right to be able tocopy them.