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Fort Wayne TV station seeks to broadcast doctor’s sentencing hearing

June 21, 2017

A Fort Wayne television station has filed an appeal challenging a Huntington Circuit judge’s order denying its request to air a trial court recording of a doctor’s sentencing hearing for felony sexual battery.

WPTA ABC 21 filed an Access to Public Records Request with Huntington County to obtain an official court recording of the sentencing of local Dr. John Mathew. Mathew, who was originally charged with rape and sexual battery for incidents that happened in 2014 and 2015 involving an employee, pleaded guilty earlier this year to two counts of felony sexual battery.

At his April 17 sentencing hearing, the doctor, the victim, her husband, and others testified before Huntington Circuit Judge Thomas Hakes sentenced Mathew to four years suspended, probation and the requirement he register as a sex offender for 10 years.

After learning the trial court had recorded sentencing, WPTA filed the APRA request and obtained a copy of the recording. Hakes then entered an order that same day barring the TV station from broadcasting any of the recording.

A motion to reconsider was denied, with Hakes citing Judicial Conduct Rule 2.17, which allows a judge to prohibit any broadcasting, recording or photographing of court proceedings without prior Indiana Supreme Court approval.

WPTA filed an appeal Tuesday with the Indiana Court of Appeals, challenging whether the court may limit the use and dissemination of a publicly available court record without complying with Administrative Rule 9 and whether broadcasting the record after the conclusion a criminal proceeding violates Judicial Conduct Rule 2.17

“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 station is represented by Bingham Greenebaum Doll LLP attorneys Margaret Christensen and Jessica Whelan.

An Indiana Supreme Court spokesperson declined to comment on the case. The Indiana Attorney General’s Office had not responded to a request for comment by IL deadline.

The case is WPTA-TV v. State of Indiana, 35A02-1705-CR-01060.
 

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