Thursday, June 24, 2021

114 West Elm Street
Graham, NC 27253
Ph: 336.228.7851

Alamance News publisher honored with national First Amendment award for open courtroom stand

Alamance News publisher Tom Boney, Jr. will be honored this week with a formal presentation of the First Amendment Award from the National Newspaper Association (NNA). NNA presents its First Amendment award periodically, according to the association “in recognition of valiant actions by community newspaper journalists.”

Boney made national headlines when he was told he was being held in contempt, forcibly removed from a courtroom, handcuffed, and ordered to be jailed in Graham while attempting to cover a court hearing on a case being heard in Alamance County district court on December 8.

While NNA has already announced the recognition, a virtual presentation of the award to Boney will take place next Thursday, March 18, during NNA’s virtual Community Newspaper Summit, to be held during Sunshine Week (March 14-20, 2021). Sunshine Week is a nationwide celebration of free press freedoms and transparency originated by the American Society of Newspaper Editors (now known as the News Leaders Association). Boney has also been asked to speak about his experience during the virtual summit.

Boney’s ejection from the courtroom followed charges against Alamance News reporter Tomas Murawski, who was arrested while covering a demonstration on October 31, 2020. Those charges are still pending.

“The impulse of governments to conduct themselves behind closed doors and limit journalists from access to events is ever present, particularly when the news is hot.

“It takes grit and determination to force transparency and accountability when you live in the community where these events occur. But it is what we do.

“The case for the value of the local newspaper is never clearer than when a courageous champion of the First Amendment like Tom Boney puts his newspaper on the line for his readers. NNA appreciates his leadership on behalf of all of us who put the First Amendment into practice in our towns.”

– NNA Chair Brett Wesner, publisher of Wesner Publications, Cordell, Oklahoma

- Advertisement -

After Boney’s expulsion, his and the other two newspapers petitioned the North Carolina Court of Appeals to force a hearing on the need to mandate the courtrooms in Alamance County be open. The appeal was dismissed in January after chief the district court judge (Brad Allen) and senior resident superior court judge (Tom Lambeth) had signed an order to make accommodations for journalists to cover judicial proceedings.

NNA Chair Brett Wesner, publisher of Wesner Publications, Cordell, OK, said NNA applauded Boney’s determination to stand up for the First Amendment. “The impulse of governments to conduct themselves behind closed doors and limit journalists from access to events is ever present, particularly when the news is hot.

“It takes grit and determination to force transparency and accountability when you live in the community where these events occur. But it is what we do.

“The case for the value of the local newspaper is never clearer than when a courageous champion of the First Amendment like Tom Boney puts his newspaper on the line for his readers,” Wesner said. “NNA appreciates his leadership on behalf of all of us who put the First Amendment into practice in our towns.”

 

Background on publisher’s ejection from district court
Fred Wilkins, a retired visiting district court judge from Rockingham County who was presiding December 8, initially said he was holding the publisher in contempt of court and ordering him to jail for refusing to leave when Boney insisted that the court proceedings should be open to the press.

Pending was the case of a white woman who was accused of attempting to run over two little black girls with her vehicle.

Boney had already protested to judge Wilkins by letter the previous week when Wilkins also excluded the press from a hearing regarding the conditions of bail for Rev. Gregory Drumwright. The Greensboro pastor had led many of the demonstrations in Graham, culminating in one that ended in law enforcement pepper-spraying to force the crowd to disperse on Halloween day.

Boney insisted that the state Constitution’s requirement that “all courts shall be open” – citing Article I, Section 14 from the N.C. Constitution – took precedence over COVID-related precautions, but the judge refused to hear any of Boney’s statements.

In a subsequent interview, the publisher estimated that approximately two to three dozen people were seated in the courtroom gallery; the upstairs balcony was empty during the December 8 court session. There was no notice posted at the historic courthouse to warn visitors that they would be blocked from entering the courtroom.

“The courtroom is not closed,” the judge said, gesturing to those in the courtroom. “It’s closed to you,” judge Wilkins said to the publisher.

Wilkins refused to hear a written motion that Boney had filed on behalf of The Alamance News and two other newspapers (The Raleigh News & Observer and Triad City Beat of Greensboro).

Wilkins 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.

“As Justice [Oliver Wendell] Holmes wrote while sitting on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, ‘Every citizen should be able to satisfy himself with his own eyes as to the mode in which a public duty is performed,’” the motion stated, citing numerous U.S. Supreme Court precedents and lower court rulings which have established that courts should remain open except in limited, extraordinary circumstances – and even then only when procedural safeguards are taken.

The N.C. Constitution requirement that all courts remain open “is not subject to doubt or interpretation,” the motion noted, adding that “no fewer than nine decisions from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit” have reinforced the right of access to judicial records and proceedings.

Boney also cited a then-recent U.S. Supreme Court case which had concluded, on another First Amendment challenge, “Even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten.”


See also story on four awards won by two staff writers of The Alamance News in the annual North Carolina Press Association writing and reporting contest:  https://alamancenews.com/two-alamance-news-reporters-recognized-for-excellence-in-journalism-by-state-press-association/

See earlier coverage of the publisher’s ejection from the courtroom: https://alamancenews.com/alamance-news-publisher-forcibly-removed-from-courtroom/

And the newspaper’s editorial views on the subjecthttps://alamancenews.com/tyrant-in-a-black-robe/

https://alamancenews.com/courts-must-continue-to-be-open-to-the-public-and-press-even-in-a-pandemic-the-constitution-cannot-be-put-away-and-forgotten/

https://alamancenews.com/and-on-a-personal-note/

Must Read

Governor confirms: Lotus Bakeries chooses Mebane over Belgium for $62 million...

Lotus Bakeries, the Belgian company famous for its Biscoff carmelized cookies served on many airlines, has chosen Mebane for a $62 million plant expansion...
PHP Code Snippets Powered By : XYZScripts.com