Alamance News publisher Tom Boney, Jr. was forcibly removed from an Alamance County courtroom Tuesday morning under orders of visiting district court judge Fred Wilkins. The judge told Boney he was in contempt of court and had him removed from the second floor courtroom of the Historic Court House; he was handcuffed outside the courtroom.
Wilkins, a retired judge who is serving as a visiting district court judge, said he was holding the publisher in contempt of court and ordering him to jail for refusing to leave when Boney insisted that the proceedings should be open to the press.
As Boney was handcuffed in a hallway outside the courtroom, however, the judge relented somewhat, sending word to the deputies that removing Boney from the courthouse should suffice. Deputies threatened to charge him with resisting arrest if he continued asserting his right to be in the courtroom.
Wilkins refused to hear a written motion that Boney had filed which had been prepared by Raleigh attorney Amanda Martin, who serves as General Counsel of the North Carolina Press Association and has represented the newspaper in previous open courtroom/open government cases.
Boney insisted that the North Carolina state constitution’s requirement that “all courts shall be open” took precedence over COVID-related precautions, but the judge refused to hear any of Boney’s statements.
Wilkins had asked whether any attorney representing the parties in the motion were present. Boney rose to say he was not an attorney, but was, in fact, the publisher of one of the newspapers that had filed the motion to keep the courtroom open. In addition to The Alamance News, the other newspapers were The (Raleigh) News & Observer and Triad City Beat in Greensboro.
When Boney began his explanation about the reasons for keeping the courtroom open, Judge Wilkins insisted that only victims, defendants, and their attorneys were entitled to be in the courtroom and that Boney, as a member of the press, was not and should leave.
When the publisher persisted in trying to explain his position, Wilkins ordered deputies on hand to remove the publisher from the courtroom.
Boney was present in the second floor courtroom of the Historic Court House, where district court cases were being heard. Sandra Warren Brazee is charged with two counts of felony assault with a deadly weapon for alleging attempting to use her vehicle to run over two 12-year-old girls near the parking lot of the Six to One convenience store at 201 West Harden Street in Graham. Brazee is white, the two girls are black.
The district court proceedings were believed to be for an initial hearing in the case; the trial itself, because it involves felony charges, would be held in superior court.