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Judge Sell bars nonlawyers from recording hearings; does ban violate law?


Judge Christie Sell serves the general sessions court in Hamilton County, Tenn., a venue for plea bargains and settlements. (Photo Christie Sell on LinkedIn)

My phone as recording device was under my notes at a hearing before Judge Christie Sell, indicating I was skulkingly recording without telling her, and that this is a breach of court rules. She ordered my record deleted, with aid of a deputy. (Tulis Report)

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., Thursday Jan. 25, 2024 — At a hearing in my criminal case Thursday, Jan. 18, in the 1:30 p.m. docket, I stood before Judge Christie Sell on two charges relating to Title 55, motor and other vehicles, for which deputy Brandon Bennett kidnapped me and put me into the Hamilton County jail.

Being slow of speech and a little slow on legal topics, I had in hand a wireless phone with the recorder app running. Judge Sell stopped the proceeding and accused me of having breached court rules and dishonored her office by recording the proceedings without asking permission. I was not there as a journalist, who under Rule 30 is required to get judicial permission to use press gear such as laptop, cameras and recording devices. I stood before her as criminal defendant.

She detected my phone “hiding” under my papers. She ordered the bailiff to delete the record.

Is her treatment in keeping with state law for courtroom recording, and the Rule 10 code of judicial conduct rules prohibiting prejudice?

The law states;

It is lawful for attorneys representing parties in proceedings in any of the courts of this state to use tape recorders as an aid in making notes of the proceedings.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-9-104

This rule necessarily applies to pro se, in persona propria and special appearance parties, among which I would be included. A man in charge of his own case is, effectively, his own attorney. No law operates to disfavor one class of litigant over another. This law is not open to any interpretation allowing for barring of record-keeping phone use in any Tennessee court.

The rule identifying attorneys has to be understood a permission to them as applying to pro se defendant. The people have a right to the court; the attorney has a privilege of being in court  because it is his place of business, and he pays privilege fees to be there. If the rule does not apply to pro se defendants, it would be an institutional or structural prejudice against probably a majority of the people who stand before Judge Sell in sessions court. That would be, people without aid of counsel or representation.

If Judge Sell’s rule applies to all pro ses, they are prejudiced as a class. If her rule applied only to me, it would appear to be a personal prejudice not authorized by Rule 2.3, which says,

A judge shall not, in the performance of judicial duties, by words or conduct manifest bias or prejudice, or engage in harassment, including but not limited to bias, prejudice, or harassment *** .

This breach is not the worst I encountered at that hearing in which I insisted the court had no subject matter jurisdiction. But it is significant because it implies that all defendants are harshly treated by Judge Sell in this matter.

What about sessions judges Gary Starnes, Lila Statom and Alex McVeigh?

I am writing Judge Sell asking for an explanation about whether we accused members of the public pro se have the right to record, or whether there is an institutional oppression against all people acting in their own defense apart from a hired gun and bar member attorney.


  1. Mike James
  2. Mike James
  3. dieter wenske

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