Craig Daily Press contests motion to bar courtroom coverage of Otis case

Lauren Blair

— The Craig Daily Press is contesting a motion filed with the Moffat County District Court to ban the newspaper from future court proceedings concerning the Logan Otis case.

Daily Press attorney Christopher Beall stated that the motion violates the newspaper’s First Amendment rights to cover court cases.

Otis’ attorney, Deputy State Public Defender Molly Hamsher, filed a motion Aug. 11 to bar the Daily Press and reporter Patrick Kelly from the courtroom, and Beall opposed the motion.

Otis, 20, was arrested May 3 following a car crash that killed his father, Dennis Otis, and was subsequently charged with vehicular homicide, driving under the influence, driving under restraint, careless driving and illegal possession of alcohol.

According to court documents, Hamsher contends that the Daily Press failed to comply with court rules regarding “expanded media coverage.”

“…The Craig Daily Press and Patrick Kelly have violated Rule 2 and this court’s order and the court should bar The Craig Daily Press and Patrick Kelly from all future court hearings involving Logan Otis,” according to the documents.

Beall responded that the Daily Press did not violate Rule 2, and that even if it had, the violation in question would not warrant barring the newspaper from the courtroom.

“The news media have a fundamental constitutional right to criminal proceedings that should not be overridden,” Beall said. “What we object to strenuously is the notion that the Craig Daily Press can be excluded from the courtroom entirely, not just excluded from using a camera.”

Beall’s response noted that the same rule the Daily Press is said to have violated also specifies a remedy for such violations, providing the court with discretion to “terminate or suspend expanded media coverage,” such as photography or audio recording in the courtroom.

“Any further adverse action against the newspaper and its reporter would be beyond the scope of what the Rule anticipates as a reasonable, narrowly tailored repercussion,” Beall wrote in the response.

The bottom line, according to Beall, citing the U.S. Supreme Court, is ensuring that justice is served not behind closed doors, but in the public eye, to which end, news media is instrumental.

Colorado Rules of Civil Procedure lay out what media can and cannot do in a courtroom in order to ensure both public transparency of the judicial process and a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

The alleged violation concerns a photograph taken during Logan Otis’ May 12 hearing, published in the Daily Press on May 13, and photographs taken, but not published, during a subsequent hearing June 30.

“The Craig Daily Press will always fight for our First Amendment rights so that we can successfully deliver information to our readers,” said Daily Press Publisher Renee Campbell.

Hamsher was not available for comment.

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1794 or or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.

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