Kicking In Another Door
The YSL trial bars everyone but the AJC from being in the room where it happens. I'm lawyering up.
I’m no longer fielding increasingly nervous phone calls from CNN and MSNBC producers, hoping to get me in front of a camera to talk about the Trump case. I have yet to master the arts of short-term media grift. Alas.
Still, I wake most mornings heartened by the world’s attention, filled with a sense of vindication, knowing that the pursuit of news in the public interest as an independent operator can no longer be easily dismissed as illegitimate or second-class journalism.
That glorious warm feeling, all apple oatmeal on a brisk autumn morning, heart emojis from a lover’s text, beagle puppies desperately competing to lick your forehead … dies at the door of the Jeffery Williams trial every time I try to attend, in case there are any questions about where I actually stand.
I was in the courtroom the day Lil’ Rod — Rodalius Ryan, one of the YSL defendants — was taken screaming from his chair, searched and dispossessed of the weed he had hidden sewn in his underwear. His screams cut through the back door of the courtroom. That sound formed the opening for the second episode of King Slime, the YSL trial podcast I’ve been working on with Christina Lee and Tommy Andres.
Our podcast has been very popular: for a brief moment it displaced Joe Budden out of top place for music podcasts in the United States. I’m immensely proud of our work. But that audio would not have been available to us if I hadn’t been in the room. Deputies in the courtroom quickly ordered the cameras to be turned off, over my protests and the protests of other journalists in the room.
Shortly after that event, deputies began to refuse me entry in the room, despite having a Rule 22 — a formal court order granting access for me and my team.
We have been relegated to a “media room” in the back halls of the courthouse, where cameras are supposed to pipe in a video and audio feed. That room for at least the last two weeks has been inoperable. There’s a second viewing room for family members on the eighth floor of the courthouse, where (up until two days ago) I was not permitted to bring in recording equipment or a laptop. I am still denied a laptop.
Meanwhile, the AJC has had full access to the courtroom proper.
Generally, when space in a courtroom is at a premium, courts operate on a pool reporting system. The video and audio is a pool system. One TV station has a permanent camera set up and everyone else — like Law and Crime or Court TV, or any two-bit blogger looking for content — gets to share it free. If things are really tight, print reporters also have a court-ordered pool, as happened when I went down to Brunswick to cover the trial of Ahmaud Arbery’s killers. The AJC filed pool reports.
But no print pool coverage has been established for the YSL trial. The last time I was rebuffed, I told them that if they’re operating a pool, then I own everything the AJC writes in there and will act accordingly. My understanding is that the AJC would object to that.
I’m not at the courthouse every day. They still haven’t picked a single juror. But Silvia Tumusiime, better known as Infamous Sylvia, is there almost every day. She’s a video blogger who has also covered the R. Kelly case, and has been able to break important news that I haven’t, like repeated interviews with Young Thug’s father. She and I view this trial through very different lenses, but that’s irrelevant; they’ve sent her to the kiddie pool, same as me, even though I write for Rolling Stone about the trial.
I’ve protested this more than once, and have tried to have a straightforward conversation with Judge Ural Glanville’s staff attorney about this arbitrary arrangement, to no avail. I get thrown out of a lot of rooms. But it shouldn’t be possible to throw me out of this one.
So I’ve retained counsel.
Sarah Brewerton-Palmer is a partner at Caplan Cobb, a small firm with an oversized reputation in Atlanta civil rights and government affairs advocacy. She’s chair of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s legislative committee and one of a small legal crew of media hit-people, like the AJC’s Tom Clyde, who regularly fight these battles.
She is polite and direct and I am morally certain she knows how to kill someone without drawing criminal charges. She’s also expensive, because Georgia politics and media are a full employment act for any lawyer who understands that well. I expect to spend at least $3,000 fighting my way inside that room. It could be more.
In case you’re wondering what I’m doing with all the filthy lucre that has fallen upon me since the Trump subpoena, you’re looking at it.
I’m not special. I am no more important than anyone else who chooses to clatter on a keyboard about the world around them. The principle of open courtroom access, however, is special. The public must be able to fairly judge the quality of justice its courts offer. All the superior court judges in this courthouse are public officials who periodically have to stand in front of voters to retain their jobs.
Your support for this newsletter is support for open access to courtrooms, city halls and legislative rooms, even the ones with people cosplaying as presidential electors.