Bismarck, N.D. - For the last 35 years, news cameras have been a fixture in North Dakota courtrooms.
On Monday, the state decided to restrict that media access.
According to media lawyer Jack McDonald, the state filed an objection to extended media coverage, essentially stifling the way the public is informed about court decisions and proceedings.
McDonald filed a motion for extended media coverage on several Dakota Access Pipeline cases.
“In my career, I’ve never seen the state object to media coverage,” said Mandan attorney Amanda Harris, who worked on several DAPL cases.
She added, “The public has a right to know what’s going on in the court room, and how their tax dollars are being spent.”
“By trying to limit media access, the state is in effect trying to limit public access” said McDonald, adding that the reason for the objection had nothing to do with the case itself.
“The state objected on the basis on what the media had written on other cases, not on this case, but they said they didn’t like what the Bismarck tribune had written,” said McDonald.
The official reason for the access denial, was fear that Police officer’s would be doxed – meaning their personal information would be shared without their consent.
“We’ve had an issue with doxing during the DAPL incident, and now we’ve had a recent doxing issue not related to DAPL,” said Bismarck Police Chief Dan Donlin.
But Harris points out – all that information would be made public anyway by court records. “They’re grasping at straws to limit access, because they don’t have a good reason to limit access,” she said, adding, “It kind of goes into the bigger picture of vindictive prosecution, limiting media coverage is just one piece.”
“In a sense they’re saying we’re only allowing the media in there if we like what their writing, and it’s what we want to see and what we want to hear,” said McDonald.
The case in question was ultimately dismissed due to lack of probable cause.