WPTA Charges Prior Restraint In Court Case

The Quincy Media-owned ABC affiliate in Ft. Wayne, Ind., is appealing a circuit court judge’s prohibition against airing an audio recording from a trial.

WPTA Ft. Wayne, Ind., an ABC affiliate owned by Quincy Media, on Tuesday filed asked the Court of Appeals of Indiana to remove a lower court order prohibiting the station from broadcasting a courtroom audio recording of criminal proceedings involving a local physician.

The order by Huntington Circuit Court Judge Thomas M. Hakes, issued April 20, prohibits the broadcast of the public record, obtained by formal request, “subject to the contempt power of (the) Court.” The audio recording was made during the sentencing phase of Dr. John Mathew, who pleaded guilty to two felony sex crime counts and was sentenced to two years of house arrest.

WPTA requested a meeting with Judge Hakes upon receipt of the order, then filed a motion to intervene and reconsider. The motion to reconsider was denied without a hearing, with Judge Hakes citing Indiana Judicial Conduct Rule 2.17 — which regulates third-party recording of court proceedings — in his denial of the motion.

The station said the recording central to the prior restraint order was made by the court and not by an outside party.

WPTA said it believes the order to be an “unjustified matter of prior restraint, violating the State of Indiana’s laws that promote transparency and support freedom of the press.”

The house arrest sentence of Mathew prompted protests outside the Huntington County Courthouse and led to a series of reports by WPTA anchor and investigative journalist Alexis Gray focused on the sentence and on additional allegations against the physician.


“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 VP-GM Merry Ewing said. “We should always be concerned when freedom of the press rights are restricted.”

The television station is represented in its appeal by Daniel P. Byron, Margaret M. Christensen and Jessica E. Whelan, attorneys with Bingham Greenbaum Doll LLP of Indianapolis.

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