A federal judge will allow a member of the press and the defendant’s wife inside the courtroom for the first January 6 trial, reversing an earlier decision to bar the public from the courtroom during witness testimony.
Judge Dabney Friedrich will also allow one family member of defendant Guy Reffitt to sit in the courtroom during the proceedings.
The decision gives the public, ultimately, more access to the atmospherics of the trial, and will insure everything that is said and done in the courtroom is witnessed by people who are not part of the trial itself.
“The journalists we represent appreciate the court making sure that the public receives in-person accounts of this historic trial, as the First Amendment requires,” attorney Charles Tobin, whose law firm Ballard Spahr who represented a coalition of media groups including CNN, said Tuesday.
Previously, Friedrich said she would not allow members of the public, including the family of Reffitt, inside the courtroom during the witness testimony portion of the trial because of space concerns during the pandemic, since the jury and the witness would be spread out around the room.
But on Tuesday, Friedrich said she reversed her decision after consulting with experts about whether it was safe to relax coronavirus protocols inside the courtroom.
No matter what, the press and others would have been able to watch witness testimony and evidence presentation – the most substantive and lengthy part of a trial – from closed-circuit video and audio feeds elsewhere in the courthouse.
But a group of media outlets argued that that work-around wasn’t transparent enough for a criminal trial. A large group of major media groups have been pressing for more public access to the January 6 prosecutions in Washington, DC.
CNN and 18 other news outlets had filed an emergency appeal of the judge’s decision – a move that kept the pressure up on a courthouse with strict coronavirus protocols even while Washington, DC, city leaders relaxed their regulations.
“Friedrich should be directed to allow a pool reporter – serving as a representative for both the press and the general public – to observe this entire trial from within the trial courtroom,” lawyers for the media coalition wrote to the DC Circuit appeals court on Tuesday morning.
“The public is entitled by law to read and hear first-hand accounts as jurors observe the questioning of witnesses, arguments of counsel, and the rulings of the Court during this historic trial,” the media groups argued in an earlier filing.