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Journalist tells U.S. judge TN courts must open to public

Hotel manager Lisa Hegwood exhorts Christopher Sapp, right, midstate bureau chief for NoogaRadio 96.9 FM, to leave a judicial conference while David Tulis, left, talks with Franklin city officer William Orange about his right to report on the doings of judges and that he does not intend to leave the premises, despite orders to do so. He was arrested without a warrant, violating state law, and charged with criminal trespass. (Photo city of Franklin police)

The Tennessee court system has rejected the first amendment right of the people to attend proceedings of its judicial conferences, and is arguing in U.S. district court today to keep people out.

By David Tulis / NoogaRadio 96.9 FM

“Everybody in the judiciary knows what the hell is going on, I promise you,” says Christopher Sapp, mids-state bureau chief for NoogaRadio 96.9 FM. “Everybody in the supreme court knows what the hell it is.”

Arguments focus on whether its Feb. 1 policy violates the first amendment because it makes no exceptions.

Dan McCaleb, The Center Square

Says Mr. Dougherty, “A policy issued by director of Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts Michelle Long in February 2022 not only blocks the press and public from observing the conference in violation of the First Amendment, but it also imposes a gag order on members and administrative court office staff preventing disclosure of dates, physical location, virtual access link, speaker documents, or other materials. Meanwhile, the conference’s federal equivalent, the judicial conference of the United States, has allowed public access to committee meetings on proposed rules of practice, procedure, and evidence for nearly 34 years.”

Mr. Sapp and I are the original parties in the suit prior to its filing, sparked by my arrest ordained by chief justice Roger Page on Nov. 6, 2021, in Franklin, at the judicial conference for city court judges. We are not the plaintiffs in the case, however, despite inked arrangements with Liberty Justice Center and its lead attorney, Memphis-based Buck Dougherty.

Mr. Daugherty opted, instead, to represent Dan McCaleb of The Center Square, a national non-profit news outfit that covers Tennessee.

“The Tennessee open government people, they know, too,” Mr. Sapp says, “because we tried to reach out to them, we tried to contact them and say, ‘Where’re you guys at, are you going to step up on this thing or not?’”

Buck Dougherty gives an interview via Zoom. (Photo David Tulis)

Prior to crashing the conference, Mr. Sapp and I submitted detailed legal analyses to chief justice Page, demanding he stand down when we arrived that Saturday at the Embassy Suites at Cool Springs hotel, a branch of the Hilton chain. He and the AOC, the administrator of the courts who serves him, refused, and directed I be arrested.

“If they get a TRO,” Mr. Sapp says, “I guarantee it’ll be on the front page of the Tennessean and all that,” he says. I suggest the story won’t do better than the metro section.

“Your listeners know” the story from the beginning. “We’ve been at the front of this thing from the very beginning, and we’ve got the email chains on all this crap, too.”

My arrest is a violation of the Tennessee oppression statute, a knowing and willful act against my clear right to attend the conference. I was intending to cover a speaker who was denouncing “sovereign citizens” and telling city court judges how to treat — or mistreat — such citizens who cite the constitution and insist on their rights.

If not felonies subject to investigation by a grand jury, the conspiracy to have me arrested is a multi-party tort involving city of Franklin, the hotel chain and, at the very least, personnel in the AOC, and possibly Mr. Page himself. His direct appointee overseeing the administrator of the court is Deborah Tate, who said she was quitting in the middle of our open records request about the arrest. We dealt with then-counsel Rachel Harmon and director of education, John Crawford, each implicated in the false arrest.

Links from the case (provided by Buck Dougherty):

Complaint 06/13/2022

Exhibit 1 — Closure Policy 06/13/2022

Press Release 06/13/2022

Motion for Temporary Restraining Order 06/13/2022

Proposed Temporary Restraining Order 06/13/2022

Declaration of Dan McCaleb 06/13/2022

Memorandum of Law in Support of Plaintiff’s Motion for TRO and Preliminary Injunction 06/13/2022

Order for TRO Hearing on June 14, 2022 06/13/2022

Chief justice Roger Page got notice about the Tennessee constitution and the open meetings act 17 days prior to the confrontation in Franklin, Tenn., over citizen rights to attend “secret” judge conferences. (Photo David Tulis)

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