RTDNA and its Voice of the First Amendment Task Force denounced a May 3 ruling by a Missouri circuit court judge prohibiting cameras in the upcoming felony criminal trial of Eric Greitens, the state’s governor.
St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison made the ruling after hearing from the prosecuting attorney and lawyers for Greitens and the alleged victim in the case, a former mistress of the governor who claims Greitens took a nude photo of her without her consent and threatened to make it public if she ever revealed the existence of their affair. Greitens has since acknowledged the extra-marital relationship.
The judge said he is still considering whether to allow audio and still photographs by news organizations during the trial.
The governor is charged with felony invasion of privacy, has pleaded not guilty, and is scheduled to go before a jury May 14 in St. Louis.
In March, RTDNA and a coalition of media companies filed a motion in St. Louis Circuit Court asking the judge to allow cameras during the trial – as allowed for in both the Missouri Constitution and the state’s statutes – so that the public could have access to the proceedings. Attorneys for RTDNA and the coalition made assurances to the victim’s attorney that her identity would not be disclosed.
“At the very least, this is a disappointing development for public access to the felony court proceedings targeting Missouri’s highest elected official. At the most, it is an unacceptable and unwarranted denial of citizens’ need to know in detail the evidence against their governor and the elements of his defense,” said Dan Shelley, RTDNA Executive Director.
Missouri law provides no mechanism to appeal judges’ decisions regarding electronic media coverage of court proceedings.
“Since the judge has made this regrettable decision to deny the governor’s constituents their right to view the trial live, we strongly urge him to allow live audio coverage and still photography in the case,” Shelley added.
Earlier this year, RTDNA spoke out forcefully urging complete transparency in a separate but parallel investigation of Greitens being conducted by a special committee of the Missouri House of Representatives. The House committee responded by conducting its entire investigation in secret.
Greitens has since been charged with a second felony alleging he illegally accessed the donor list of a charity he founded to help raise money for his 2016 campaign. RTDNA will be seeking cameras in the courtroom for those proceedings as well.
RTDNA formed the nonpartisan Voice of the First Amendment Task Force to defend against threats to the First Amendment and news media access, and to help the public better understand why responsible journalism is essential to their daily lives. RTDNA is a founding partner of the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, the archive of record for threats against press freedom in America. Reach out to RTDNA by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.