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New ruling could have 1st Amendment fallout

Legal battle brewing over courthouse photography

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A legal battle that could have 1st Amendment implications is brewing over who can say or do what outside of the Duval County Courthouse.

An order from the chief judge has put major restrictions on protesters and it's also affecting people who try to take pictures and video outside of the courthouse.

The order was issued after an incident in May when a press conference by State Attorney Angela Corey on the courthouse steps had to be moved because of a demonstrator that the ruling said created a security threat.

Thursday morning, two members of the group Photography Is Not A Crime were shooting video outside the courthouse when JSO officers came over and gave them the judge's order, threatening them with contempt of court if they didn't leave.

Jeff Gray was the man recording the incident and he said he thinks the order goes too far.

"It's heartbreaking that you can't go out and take photographs of a courthouse in Jacksonville because of a judge's administrative order. This courthouse cost the taxpayers of Jacksonville almost half a billion dollars and this judge is telling us we can't take photographs or videotape the courthouse the taxpayers paid for," Gray said.

Gray was on Broad Street, opposite the courthouse, in the area that the order said was exempt from being considered part of the Duval County Courthouse Grounds,

Ed Birk, an attorney for News4Jax, said it may have been the entrance to the parking garage under the courthouse that is the issue. The order said that area is secure and can't be photographed.

"I won't fault the judges for this because they are trying to balance between keeping an open courthouse and First Amendment rights, but also keeping security and calm order for the courthouse," Birk said.

The order said the lawn, sidewalk leading to the courthouse, the courthouse steps, perimeter sidewalks on Adams, Duval, Broad, and Pearl streets, State Attorney's Office, and parking garage are considered courthouse grounds.

Sidewalks across the street from the courthouse are supposed to be fair ground.

Gray said he knows security can be an issue, but what his organization does isn't a risk.

"If someone is committing a crime on the courthouse grounds, arrest them for committing a crime, but don't use that as an excuse to take everybody else's rights away," Gray said.

Birk said he doesn't feel the order applies to Channel 4, or will change the station's ability to cover court stories. The ruling said that it does not prohibit credentialed media from using the front steps or exterior areas while working, but Birk said it can still be a slippery slope.

"It's very easy to go too far when you are restricting First Amendment rights, to unintentionally go too far. This conversation is far from over," Birk said.

News4Jax did call and leave a message for the court administrator and the chief judge for clarification but have not yet heard back from them.