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Judge Boyce bans cameras from upcoming Daybell hearings

ST. ANTHONY — District Judge Steven Boyce has issued an order banning video and still cameras from all upcoming hearings in the Chad and Lori Vallow Daybell case.

The order came in response to a motion from Jim Archibald and John Thomas, Lori Daybell’s defense attorneys, asking that cameras be removed from future proceedings. They said they were upset that cameras operated by Court TV during an Aug. 16 hearing were focused mainly on their client, and microphones had been placed on the defendant’s and prosection’s tables.

Prosecutors Rob Wood and Lindsey Blake filed a motion supporting the camera ban while joined 32 other local, state and national media outlets in opposition.

John Thomas, Lori Daybell, Jim Archibald
Lori Vallow Daybell sits by defense attorneys Jim Archibald and John Thomas. | file photo

Judges in Idaho have the right to limit cameras in their courtrooms, and Boyce heard arguments from all sides last week before issuing his seven-page response Friday afternoon.

“While the right to public access must be protected, the scope of the coverage cannot supersede the rights of all parties to the fair administration of justice in this case,” Boyce wrote. “The court has previously been made aware and continues to be informed that documentaries, dramatizations and fictionalized media focusing on the defendants and allegations in this case have already been procured and continue to be disseminated to the public.”

Chad and Lori Daybell are facing multiple counts of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for the deaths of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan – two of Lori Daybell’s kids – along with Chad’s previous wife, Tammy Daybell.

Boyce wrote he found no misconduct or interruptions from the media during previous hearings and said journalists in the courtroom have been professional and respectful. But the judge is worried about pre-trial publicity and noted “visual” coverage of the case could impede the ability to pick a fair jury.

“This court has previously permitted cameras in the courtroom during this case, allowing both photography and video transmission, ‘but when the case is a “sensational” one, tensions develop between the right of the accused to trial by an impartial jury and the right guaranteed others by the First Amendment,’” Boyce wrote, referencing Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart.

The media argued citizens of Fremont and Madison counties, who are paying for the case, have a right to view proceedings – especially when the 10-week trial begins in Ada County next January. Boyce noted the issue and said he intends to provide “enhanced access” with designated seating in the courtroom for Madison and Fremont County residents.

Zac Gershberg, associate professor of journalism and media studies at Idaho State University, told Friday afternoon that traveling four hours to Ada County to view trial proceedings creates a burden for Madison and Fremont residents.

“While (Boyce) is certainly authorized by Idaho law to make this ruling, I.C.A.R. 45, which he draws from, would allow the court to proceed with visual access for the public until he determines such coverage is indeed ‘interfering in any way with the proper administration of justice.’ He is only presuming down the road that it might,” Gershberg said. “It is also rather curious for Judge Boyce to quote from Nebraska v. Stuart, a case in which the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of press rights over the decision of a trial judge, finding ‘that pretrial publicity — even pervasive, adverse publicity — does not inevitably lead to an unfair trial.’”

Although Boyce revoked video and photographic coverage, he wrote audio proceedings will continue to be permitted using in-courtroom microphones. It’s unclear if a live audio feed for public dissemination will be allowed.

Read the judge’s entire order here.

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