NEFAC, Vermont Journalism Groups Call for Better Press Access to Courts

CONTACT Justin Silverman | 774.244.2365 |


The New England First Amendment Coalition and Vermont journalism organizations expressed concern today about courts in the state limiting press access to in-person proceedings, a situation particularly problematic for broadcast newsrooms.

In a June 3 letter to Vermont Judiciary officials, the groups described at least two instances of broadcast journalists being denied access to courtrooms and unable to use their own equipment to record proceedings. Court Administrative Order 49 was cited as justification for the restrictions. The order allows courts in the state to make temporary changes to their rules and operations in response to COVID-19 safety concerns.

“In both cases, no notice was given to the public that such restrictions would be imposed,” wrote representatives of NEFAC, the Vermont Press Association and the Vermont Association of Broadcasters. “The judges provided no reasoning for the restrictions other than citing Order 49 and the reporters shut out of the in-person proceedings were given no opportunity to object.”

The organizations suggested that Order 49 be amended or clarified to require the following:

If public and press access to a court proceeding will be limited under Order 49, the court imposing the restrictions shall give notice, including a written explanation for why such re- strictions are necessary, no later than 48 hours prior to the proceeding. The court shall also provide an opportunity for any member of the public to object to the restrictions and shall limit access only upon a finding of good cause.

“This will allow newsrooms the opportunity to object to the restrictions and, if those restrictions are upheld, prepare their news coverage in a way that compensates for the lack of access,” the groups explained. “We believe this is a reasonable measure that respects the authority of the court under Order 49 but also helps protect the First Amendment right of journalists to access court proceedings.”

NEFAC was formed in 2006 to advance and protect the Five Freedoms of the First Amendment, including the principle of the public’s right to know. We’re a broad-based organization of people who believe in the power of an informed democratic society. Our members include lawyers, journalists, historians, academics and private citizens.

Our coalition is funded through contributions made by those who value the First Amendment and who strive to keep government accountable. Please make a donation here.

Leadership Circle donors include the Rhode Island Foundation, Hearst Connecticut Media Group, The Boston Globe, Paul and Ann Sagan, and the Robertson Foundation. Major Supporters include Boston University, the Academy of New England Journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists Foundation, Genie Gannett for the First Amendment Museum, Linda Pizzuti Henry, Connecticut Public and GBH-Boston.