Judge Restricts Media, Public Access to Fired Minneapolis Officer’s Murder Trial

Andy Mannix, Star Tribune, March 29, 2019

A Hennepin County district judge has imposed tight restrictions on public and media access to the highly anticipated trial of Mohamed Noor, the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murdering Justine Ruszczyk Damond.

With Noor’s trial set to begin Monday, Judge Kathryn L. Quaintance cited the need to preserve “order and decorum” in issuing an order this week that places it in a courtroom that holds about two dozen seats — half the size of some others in the building. The judge reserved eight places for the media and 11 for the public. Quaintance also banned laptops, cellphones and recording devices from the floor on which the trial will take place, authorizing that people be searched to ensure compliance.

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In similar high-profile trials, Kirtley said, judges have consulted with reporters to establish rules without hindering access for journalists or the public.

Quaintance has already prohibited cameras from the courtroom. The court granted media seats based on order of request. The Star Tribune, Minnesota Public Radio, KSTP-TV and KARE-TV are the only local media who secured spots, said District Court spokesman Spenser Bickett. The other four media seats will go to ABC Australia, Channel 9 Australia, the Associated Press and the New York Times.

The families of Noor and Damond will be limited to four seats each in the courtroom. Others will be permitted to observe from an overflow room. {snip}

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Media pushback

On March 15, Star Tribune Managing Editor Suki Dardarian sent a letter to the court raising concerns about potential media restrictions.

Dardarian asked the court to weigh journalists’ roles when creating trial rules, offering to meet and discuss how to best navigate the situation. No one took Dardarian up on the offer, and she learned of the order when it went online Wednesday.

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Nancy Cassutt, news director for Minnesota Public Radio, said it’s the judge’s prerogative to set rules for the courtroom, but she agreed that the restrictions will hinder the media’s ability to show the public how the process plays out.

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