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Charles Co. court rescinds order barring CD recordings of proceedings

Charles County Circuit Court officials have rescinded a 2005 policy that prevented individuals from requesting and receiving copies of audio recordings, which is generally permitted under state rules.

The administrative order, which prohibited the court from providing audio recordings to anyone other than a commercial reporting service, was the subject of litigation by two citizens seeking copies of CDs. The Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection, or ICAP, at Georgetown University Law Center filed suit on their behalf in September.

On Monday, the plaintiffs voluntarily dismissed their case and attorneys confirmed the court had turned over the requested audio and begun processing other requests in recent weeks. The administrative order was formally rescinded Nov. 21 by Administrative Judge Amy Janel Bragunier.

“We’re glad that Charles County court officials have finally acknowledged that their 2005 administrative order conflicts with the Maryland Rules,” attorney Nicolas Riley said via email.

The conclusion of the litigation came two months after a judge invalidated an administrative order in Baltimore City Circuit Court purporting to restrict access to CD recordings to parties and their attorneys.

Retired Court of Appeals Judge Irma S. Raker, presiding over the case by special assignment, issued a declaratory judgment Sept. 24 that the order conflicted with statewide rules and was invalid.

Riley said in an interview that the Maryland Office of the Attorney General, which represented the Charles County court officials in the lawsuit, indicated in the last month that the case was likely to be resolved without further litigation.

“They saw the writing on the wall with Judge Raker’s order,” Riley said. “I think they just knew that it would be at least an uphill battle to defend the Charles County order.”

A spokeswoman for the attorney general declined to comment.

The plaintiffs in the Charles County case, Angela Nivens and Andrea Conte, sought recordings of post-conviction proceedings for Nivens’ great-uncle Charles Edret Ford. Ford, who served more than 60 years in prison for murder before being released in 2016, died in 2018. Conte, a writer, is researching Ford’s case and Nivens is interested in having recordings to remember him.

The court administrator for Charles County Circuit Court denied Conte’s request for audio recordings and cited the administrative order from now-retired Judge Robert C. Nalley. Court staff confirmed later that “the Circuit Court for Charles County does not provide discs” of audio recordings.

The Maryland Rules provide a right to obtain a copy of an audio recording with a written request and payment of reasonable costs. Riley said ICAP heard from members of the Charles County bar who said they had to obtain written transcripts of proceedings because of the court’s prohibition on providing recordings.

District Public Defender Michael Beach said via email that access to records of proceedings is important to effective representation of clients.

“We are pleased that this administrative order, which placed unnecessary barriers on our ability to review court proceedings, has been lifted,” he said.

Though Bragunier’s order says the previous order was issued before the Court of Appeals adopted the rule permitting individuals to request recordings, the county’s 2005 administrative order came after the rule was promulgated and was issued four days before it took effect, Riley said, adding that this “would seem to suggest that court officials were deliberately trying to circumvent (the rule).”

The Maryland Judiciary declined to comment Tuesday.

The case is Angela Nivens et al. v. Deborah Zrioka, C-08-CV-19-000804.


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