Court knocks down clamp on media

BY STACI WILSON

Montrose Council’s attempt to silence press coverage was struck down in court last week as one of its “Rules for Public Conduct at Meetings” was found unconstitutional.

Among its list of rules for conduct of public meetings handed down just over one year ago, Montrose’s elected officials prohibited the audio and/or video recordings prior to and after a public meeting.

That specific rule – Rule #12 – was challenged in the Susquehanna County Court of Common Pleas on Feb. 5 by Lisa Barr, a freelance journalist and mass media professor from Oneonta, N.Y.

The wording of the borough meeting rule is as follows: “All recording devices (video, audio, digital) shall be turned off prior to commencement of the meeting and at adjournment of the meeting.”

Barr had challenged the borough’s meeting rules last year in the Court of Common Pleas. Barr and the borough entered into a stipulation agreement on the ‘rules’ prior to any hearing.

She, however, overlooked Rule #12 and reinitiated her suit against Montrose when she discovered it was in place.

President Judge Kenneth Seamans handed down an order Feb. 13 striking the contested rule from the borough’s “Amended Rules of Conduct for Public Meetings” and permanently enjoining the borough from enforcing that rule.

In the court opinion, the judge noted, “Not only is Rule 12 a government regulation of First Amendment activities in designated fora, but it is also a time, place and manner restriction.”

The opinion also noted that the borough “put forth no significant governmental interest that is being served by the passing and enforcement of Rule 12.”

The Feb. 13 ruling by the court allows people to record before and after meetings.

But the opinion goes on to say that despite the borough’s assertion the Rules were passed in keeping with Pennsylvania law: the borough cited “little to no case law or statutory law to support their assertions.”