Judge orders Twitter in the court, lets bloggers cover infant-abuse trial

Prosecutors and defense attorneys wanted bloggers silenced in the courtroom next week, but a Boulder judge ordered Monday that cell phones and computers won’t be banned from the child-abuse trial of Alex Midyette, the Boulder Daily Camera reports. The attorneys argued that live-blogging and Tweeting the sensational case could tip witnesses to proceedings before they testified, thus impeding a fair trial. “I think there are other manageable options and less restrictive options than shutting down the flow of information during the trial,” Boulder District Judge Lael Montgomery said.

Last week, when the attorneys filed the joint motion to keep bloggers out of the courtroom, a Kansas journalist who has pioneered new media trial coverage cried foul. “Courts are supposed to be public and this is just another way of creating public access,” Wichita Eagle reporter Ron Sylvester wrote in an e-mail to the Colorado Independent. In addition to a Tweeting trial coverage, Sylvester maintains a blog, What the Judge Ate for Breakfast, with further insight into the local courts.

“[R]eporting through live blogging is simply text descriptions, just as newspapers have been reporting on the courts for ages,” Sylvester wrote. “When I use Twitter to cover trials, there’s really very little difference in what I do with social media than what I write for the next day’s newspaper.”

Montgomery agreed in her ruling Monday, ordering witnesses to refrain from reading about the testimony of other witnesses. “The court believes that is a more appropriate way to proceed than shutting off the reporting at the front end,” the Longmont Times-Call reported.

Bloggers covered the trial of Molly Midyette, Alex Midyette’s wife, who was convicted a year ago of failing to stop or report the abuse that led to the death of her 11-week-old son, Jason. The judge already moved her husband’s trial from Boulder to Denver because of pre-trial publicity and banned television cameras from the courtroom.

Alex Midyette’s trial on charges of child abuse resulting in death is scheduled to start Jan. 12. The judge also ruled Monday that the jury won’t be sequestered. “I am persuaded that the standard admonishment to the jury about avoiding media reports about the case will suffice,” she said.

Sylvester put the controversy over trial blogging in perspective: “A note: The notion of public courts predates our Constitution and even the Magna Carta. There are records of public trials following the Saxon invasion in England, where trials were held on the public square of villages. Our public squares now include Twitter.”

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