Miami First Amendment Activist Sues for Right to Film in Florida Courtroom

For the past eight years, Carlos Miller has operated the Miami-based website Photography Is Not a Crime (PINAC), a nationally known free speech and media advocacy blog with roughly a million visitors a month. But recently a Jacksonville judge ruled the organization couldn't film the trial of its own correspondent because the site doesn't fit the court's definition of a media organization.

Now PINAC is fighting back by filing a lawsuit to get the right to film in courtrooms.  

"The laws are very clear," Miller tells New Times. "But now, in this case, the judge does not want us to record... because they don't like our organization." 

The case revolves around the trial of Michale Hoffman, a reporter for PINAC who is being charged with trespassing, a misdemeanor, for holding signs outside a local airport.

At Hoffman's first hearing last October, another PINAC reporter requested to film the court proceedings and was allowed. But for a subsequent court date, Miller says, the court threw in a hurdle, forcing PINAC to apply for media credentials and then repeatedly denying its application.  

In March, Judge Mark Mahon finally issued an order outlining a narrow definition of what constitutes media: traditional print and broadcast organizations that "reach or influence people widely" and digital media that posts original news, has an editor review all stories, and can prove it has regular online visitors. 

All kinds of blogs, or citizen journalists, would be effectively excluded, especially PINAC — even though the website's viewership numbers are roughly on par with those of the top news sites in Jacksonville, where the trial is taking place, Miller says. Throughout the process, Miller says, PINAC has repeatedly tried to comply with the requirements, but the judge keeps "moving the goal post" — adding restrictions like a nonsensical mandate that to be authorized to cover the judicial system, an organization must have already covered the judicial system for six months. "He's just trying to put all kinds of obstacles in front of us," Miller says. 

But Miller is confident the law is actually on his side. In Florida, he says, to bar the filming of a trial, the court in effect has to prove there's a good reason for a camera not to be present, which usually is that it compromises a fair trial for the defendant. But in this case, the party seeking to film is also the defendant, so the argument is ridiculous. And the judge's restrictive media definition, Miller contends, will also ultimately be swiftly thrown out.  

"The First Amendment says there's freedom of the press," Miller says. "It doesn't say, 'There's freedom of the press if you run a newspaper.'" 
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Trevor Bach