Jury's still out on banning pictures, recordings in Butler County courthouse
Butler County's chief judge is considering whether to prohibit picture-taking and the making of video or audio recordings inside the county courthouse and adjacent government center.
Butler County President Judge Thomas Doerr has asked for feedback from the county commissioners, county Solicitor Mike English and the county bar association.
“We're working on fashioning a policy so we don't interfere with anyone's rights,” Doerr said.
Doerr said the state Administrative Office of the Pennsylvania Court advised government agencies about a group gathering information about security measures at county courthouses across the state.
Doerr wouldn't identify the organization, and neither would Sheriff Mike Slupe.
The administrative office declined comment, saying it does not discuss security issues.
If someone is gathering information about courthouse security, “We're not sure as to the extent this information would be used, whether the intent of the person doing it would be to cause alarm or to use the information in some way that would be disruptive,” Doerr said.
According to a draft of the policy, people would still be allowed to carry electronic devices that can record or take pictures, but couldn't use them to do so. They could still use laptops and talk on cell phones in the hallways and common areas.
Doerr can implement the policy or chose not to, officials said. As president judge, he oversees courthouse security, said Butler County Commission Chairman Bill McCarrier.
McCarrier said he has not had a chance to look at the proposal.
Commissioner Jim Eckstein was staunch in his opposition.
“I'm appalled by it. I don't think we're any safer when we're losing our rights,” he said.
At the federal courthouse in Pittsburgh, most people are banned from taking a cell phone inside, and must leave them at secured entrances.
“This has been something that's been on my mind for a while,” he said. “Obviously, we want to protect the people first.”
Statewide policy already bans any public recording or taking photographs of court proceedings.
“Nothing in this order is meant to inhibit anyone from video or audio recording any public meeting that is required by law to be made available to the public,” the proposed order reads. “Nothing in this order is meant to constrain any elected official or county department head from making exceptions when required for the reasonable needs and requirements of conducting county business.”
Doerr added that he doesn't want the policy to interfere with media coverage in the courthouse or with ceremonies in courtrooms.
In the Allegheny County Courthouse, the public is restricted to using cell phones and recording devices in small areas. A sign posted in a hallway says that use of cell phones is restricted on floors three and five, and that cell phones will be confiscated.
“I think we're trying to be a little less restrictive than Allegheny County, but still draw the line to meet our needs,” Doerr said.
Of the proposed restrictions, ACLU attorney Sarah Rose said, “As long as the government applies the rules equally, they have the power to do so.”
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel with the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, said she was glad to hear Doerr didn't want to infringe on personal rights.
“Apparently, he realizes this kind of a regulation can get very broad very quickly and have unintended negative consequences,” Melewsky said.
Bill Vidonic is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5621 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Butler County initiative aims to find employment for struggling job-seekers
- Butler Township commissioners expected to approve town homes
- Seneca Valley team places 1st at Carnegie Science Center competition
- Butler County COG, Humane Society aim to control cat population
- County human services director’s reorganization plans stymied
- Congressman Kelly wants to buy part of Butler Blue Sox
- Mars Area students put science theory into practice
- Disbanding Butler Stadium Authority requires state approval
- Deadline looms for Butler Area consolidation plans
- Seneca Valley bands, choir put on holiday performance for senior citizens