Media Law Handbook

Court Access


9. Are cameras allowed in courtrooms?
6. When can a judge seal a court file?

8. How should a reporter respond to a court order limiting access to court proceedings?

The simple answer to this question is call your editor and, if the editor is not available, your lawyer, as quickly as possible.  One practical lesson of the courtroom closure cases is that if you are covering a case and a closure motion is made, you should stand, identify yourself, explain that you and your employer object to closure of the courtroom, and request an opportunity to have counsel appear and present legal argument in opposition to the closure motion.  If you fail to object, you may waive your right of access.  Once the objection is made, you must then get on the telephone to both your editor and your lawyer—quickly!

More specifically, if a motion is made to close a court proceeding, you should stand, identify yourself and make the following statement to the judge:

Your honor, I respectfully request the opportunity to register on the record an objection to the motion to close this proceeding to the public, including the press.  Our legal counsel has advised us that standards set forth in N.C. General Statutes § 1-72.1 and in U.S. and N.C. Supreme Court decisions regarding the constitutional right of access to judicial proceedings recognize the right to a hearing before the court is closed.  Therefore, I respectfully request such a hearing and a brief continuance so I can call our counsel to come to explain our position.

It is essential to act quickly to avoid waiving the right to access.  For example, in 2010, the presiding judge in Chatham County announced that he would close a hearing regarding a John Edwards sex tape.  Unfortunately, the media representatives who were present did not invoke their right to object and move for access to the closed proceeding as it unfolded.  It was reported that the judge heard the matter in chambers for an hour before emerging and announcing his ruling.[94]  In contrast, during the state’s first hearing applying the Racial Justice Act, Senior Resident Superior Court Judge Greg Weeks announced an intention to hear testimony from Judge E. Lynn Johnson in a closed courtroom.  Reporters for the Fayetteville Observer and WTVD objected and asked to be heard.  Judge Weeks agreed and conducted a hearing with one media lawyer in the courtroom and another participating via the reporter’s phone, and ultimately Judge Weeks ruled that the testimony would be taken in open court.[95] 

Those contrasting cases provide an important opportunity for reporters and editors to learn about the special procedural rights they enjoy in North Carolina to challenge the closing of a courtroom or the sealing of a court record.



[94] Michael Biesecker, Former Edwards aide must turn over tapeNews & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.), Feb. 6, 2010, available at

[95] Paul Woolverton, Ruling blocks judge's answer in Racial Justice Act hearingFayetteville Observer (Fayetteville, N.C.), Feb. 8, 2012, available at

9. Are cameras allowed in courtrooms?
6. When can a judge seal a court file?

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