Advice for Judges Handling Media Requests
The Reynolds National Center for Courts and Media publishes two helpful guides called "Initiating and Maintaining a Constructive Dialogue" and "Tools for Judges and Court Personnel to Deal with the Media."
The Fire Brigade
Indiana Judicial Center
Community Relations Committee
BREAK GLASS AND READ
The Indiana Supreme Court launched the "Fire Brigade" in 2003 to help resolve issues that develop between the courts and the news media. It is modeled after a unique program that originated in the State of Washington to protect the rights to fair trial and a free press.
What is the Fire Brigade?
The Fire Brigade is a subset of the Indiana Judicial Advisory Committee on Media Relations. The Fire Brigade consists of a small group of Indiana trial judges from various regions of the state who are available to consult confidentially with judges who have concerns with the media, and journalists who have questions about judicial actions.
Why do we need a Fire Brigade?
The purpose of the Fire Brigade is to put out smoldering problems between judges and the media before they become raging infernos. Overall, its mission is the improvement of bench-media relations by creating better communication at crucial times.
When do I call the Fire Brigade?
- When a reporter asks for information and you need advice on whether or how to respond.
- When you know a critical story about your court is coming, even before the media does, and need advice about how to proceed.
- When a reporter does not understand the law, or the rules of judicial conduct, and you need a prudent way to resolve the conflict before it gets out of hand.
- When you should have dealt with a reporter better, and need advice or mediation to rectify the situation before it gets out of hand.
- Any time you need informal help or advice with any problem with the media, whether a "fire" is starting or not.
- When a judge declines to respond to your questions about a case and you want to know why.
- When you hear an attorney wants to close part of the trial and the judge is indicating he/she does not believe a hearing is necessary before granting the motion.
- When there is a request made to the judge for a "gag order" and you fear the judge might not consider other alternatives to limit the prejudicial impact of pre-trial publicity.
- When a judge has limited access to information or proceedings in the court and you do not understand why.
Does the Fire Brigade get involved when the media files motions in court?
No. The Fire Brigade is only an informal method to resolve misunderstandings or disputes. Some issues are appropriate for litigation (gag orders already issued, high-profile case procedures, etc). The Fire Brigade is available to help resolve issues to avoid the need for litigation or news coverage of a bench/media dispute.
How do I contact the Fire Brigade?
Call the Indiana Judicial Center at 317-232-1313. The Judicial Center staff will direct your call to a member of the Fire Brigade, who will contact you to discuss the issue. Questions can usually be answered quickly. All discussions are informal, off-the-record, confidential and non-binding.
Fire Brigade Members
- Lorenzo Arredondo, Lake Circuit Court (Fire Chief)
- David J. Dreyer, Marion Superior Court
- Blaine Akers, Clay Superior Court
- Rosemary Higgins Burke, Miami Circuit Court