We don’t keep a lot of money around for lawyers at TCB. Not that we don’t need them — our reliance on the First Amendment in order to ply our trade necessitates a lot of conversations with lawyers, both formal and informal, part of our long-term strategy not to get sued for libel which has, thus far, been 100 percent effective.
But when doing the people’s business, sometimes a news outlet needs a little lawyering to underscore the rules of the game.
That’s what happened last week, when Senior Editor Jordan Green, along with Carli Brosseau of the News & Observer and Tom Boney of the Alamance News were refused entry into the Historic Courthouse in Alamance County. Inside, a sentencing for one of a raft of BLM-related arrests was being heard by Judge Fred Wilkins, a “visiting” judge who retired after losing his Rockingham County seat in 2014. Boney, sort of the Alamance version of John Hammer who has run his conservative weekly for 17 years, was briefly handcuffed and threatened with contempt charges.
The case concerned a white woman who attempted to hit two 12-year-old girls of color on the sidewalk with her truck. What’s more important is that no reporters were there to bear witness to the sentencing (a suspended sentence with probation for two misdemeanor charges), and if current courtroom rules held, none would be there to see the sentencing of the BLM protesters arrested after being pepper-sprayed by police. March organizer Rev. Greg Drumwright has been charged with felonies for his part in the day; an attempt to ban him from Alamance County, where he grew up, has been denied.
And so, we lawyer up.
We’re in with the N&O and Boney on this one, utilizing the talents of Amanda Martin et al of Stevens Martin Vaughn & Tadych to ensure access to the courtroom; the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has filed an amicus brief in support; the Society of Professional Journalists has called for Alamance County to relent; the Washington Post is watching.
As it stands, the Alamance courthouse is closed to non-essential hearings. And we’ve learned that at least one person arrested on Oct. 31 has a Jan. 11, 2021 court date.
And so, we and our lawyers wait.
We will not be denied access to the halls of justice in Alamance County because the law is absolutely on our side here. I am not a lawyer — not even close; my legal knowledge doesn’t get much past the First Amendment. But that’s all I need to understand that Alamance County cannot conduct the people’s business without granting access to the people.