FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - ABC21 announced today that it is appealing a court order preventing the station from broadcasting a trial court recording of a local physician's sentencing hearing -- a recording that is a public record pursuant to state law.
The appellate brief was submitted by attorneys representing the station to the Court of Appeals of Indiana, challenging the April 20 order by Huntington Circuit Court Judge Thomas M. Hakes.
Hakes ordered ABC21 to refrain from broadcasting any portion of an audio recording made during the sentencing phase of the trial of Dr. John Mathew.
Mathew pleaded guilty to two counts of felony sexual battery. Mathew, supporters of Mathew and several individuals speaking on behalf of his victim testified prior to sentencing.
Hakes imposed a sentence of two years of house arrest on Mathew. Protesters later gathered outside the courthouse to express their dissatisfaction, and a series of reports by ABC21 anchor and investigative journalist Alexis Gray focused on the sentence and on additional allegations against the physician.
The audio recording was obtained from the court during Gray's work on those reports.
Station management requested a meeting with Judge Hakes upon receipt of the order banning its broadcast, then filed a Motion to Intervene and Reconsider. The Motion to Reconsider was denied without a hearing, with Judge Hakes citing Indiana Judicial Conduct Rule 2.17 – which regulates third-party recording of court proceedings – in his denial of the motion.
The filing of the appellate brief elevates the matter to the second-highest court in Indiana.
“We hope this case sets a precedent for reporters across the state, to ensure they have access to court recordings and are able to broadcast them.” WPTA Vice President and General Manager Merry Ewing said. “We should always be concerned when freedom of the press rights are restricted."
The television station is represented in its appeal by Daniel Byron, Margaret M. Christensen and Jessica E. Whelan, attorneys with Bingham Greenbaum Doll LLP of Indianapolis.