Duval County Chief Judge Cancels Courthouse Photography Ban

Jul 15, 2015

From July 1 through July 15 taking photographs outside the Duval County Courthouse was banned by an order from Chief Judge Mark Mahon.
Credit Cyd Hoskinson / WJCT News

People can go back to taking all the photographs they want outside of the Duval County Courthouse.

Chief Judge Mark Mahon on Wednesday rescinded a week-old administrative order prohibiting filming and certain forms of demonstrations on courthouse steps, sidewalks and lawns.

In a notice rescinding Administrative Order 2015-4, Mahon wrote that the controversy about limiting free speech and public access to the courthouse overshadowed the intent of the order.

"The goal was to ensure the safety of all people who conduct business and work at the courthouse while, at the same time, ensuring such freedoms as speech and press were protected," Mahon wrote. "The intent was to strike an appropriate balance between what are, at times, competing objectives."

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 who the ruling said created a security threat.

"The goal was to ensure the safety of all people who conduct business and work at the courthouse while, at the same time, ensuring such freedoms as speech and press were protected," Mahon wrote.

  Earlier this month, two members of the group Photography is not a Crime were shooting video outside the courthouse when JSO officers gave them the judge’s order, threatening them with contempt of court if they didn’t leave.

Jeff Gray, the man who recorded the incident, said he thinks the order went 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.

“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.

  The initial order restricted certain activities on sidewalk leading to the courthouse, the courthouse steps, perimeter sidewalks on Adams, Duval, Broad and Pearl streets, the State Attorney’s Office and the parking garage are considered courthouse grounds.

Gray said he knows that 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.

The rescission comes after representatives from five media outlets, including WJCT and News4Jax, met with Judge Mahon on Tuesday to voice their concerns about the restrictions.

First-Amendment Lawyer, George Gabel spearheaded the fight against the order.

Gabel said, “It was an issue that brought together all the major news media on an issue that’s important to their ability to inform the public about courthouse proceedings even though they’re competitors in the news business.”

Mahon issued the order on July 1 in response to a group of activists who were staging daily demonstrations in front of the courthouse.

The rescission says the intent of the Order was to preserve an atmosphere of safety and decorum, but secondary issues took over the focus.