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.
The Noor case marks a rare example in the American criminal justice system of an officer going to trial over a fatal shooting, and the first time in modern history a Minnesota police officer has been charged with murder for an on-duty death.
The restrictions pose serious First Amendment problems and will make it difficult for journalists to document the trial, said Jane Kirtley, a University of Minnesota professor who teaches media law.
“There’s been a deliberate decision made here to limit access by the press and public,” Kirtley said. “I appreciate the concerns that are being raised here, but it seems to me that [the courts] are overlooking the fact that the public and the press have a First Amendment right of access to a criminal proceeding like this one.”
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. Quaintance’s original order Wednesday stated that the trial would only be relayed in the overflow room by audio. On Thursday, after protest from media outlets, Quaintance and Hennepin County Chief District Judge Ivy Bernhardson amended the order to allow a video feed to the overflow room.
“Most importantly, it is the Court’s role to safeguard the parties’ right to fair and public proceedings and the public’s right to access them,” the order said.
Bickett would not comment on criticisms that the order could hinder First Amendment rights….
Also, the media and gallery will not be allowed to see Noor’s bodycam footage. Why is Judge Kathryn L. Quaintance doing this? It isn’t hard to see. She wants to protect Noor as much as possible, so as to avoid unrest among Minnesota’s large Somali Muslim community. She also wants to avoid — as much as possible, anyway — shining a negative light on the Minneapolis officials who are responsible for this fiasco, the ones who were so avid to have a Somali Muslim cop on the police force that they elevated Noor beyond his ability and kept him on the force despite his manifest incompetence, all because of his value as a symbol of their multiculturalism and rejection of “Islamophobia.”
This entire incident is an indictment of identity politics. The case of Mohamed Noor is a demonstration of the need for police officers to be hired on the basis of their competence, not their race or religion, and a plea that the practice of hiring cops on the basis of their identity be discarded. But no one, outside of Jihad Watch, is seeing it in that light.