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Yes, we can get along: Connecticut judges and journalists collaborate to improve court access

The Day's focus is on local news, but our beautiful corner of the world isn't an island, and we also keep up with state and national events that matter to our region.

While covering the courts beat for the past 15 years, I served on the statewide Judicial-Media Committee, which is made up of judges, journalists and others interested in ensuring state courts are transparent.

The committee's mission is "to foster and improve better understanding and relationships between the Judicial Branch and the media, both print and electronic, and to discuss and recommend resolutions of problems confronted by the media and the public in gaining access to court proceedings and documents."

A few weeks ago, I attended my last meeting of the Judicial-Media Committee. I'm no longer the courts reporter, so when my three-year term expired this spring, it seemed appropriate to step down from the committee, which I co-chaired for several years, and let somebody else have a chance.

I was grateful my editors thought service on the committee, and on a subcommittee that presented educational programs for journalists and judges, was a good use of my time.

With input from the Judicial-Media committee, the courts implemented rules allowing news photographers and videographers access to important proceedings. The committee worked to gain better access to police reports and court proceedings of hospitalized defendants. We brought in guest speakers on many topics, including crime victims, juvenile policy, the growth of digital media, opioid addiction and hate crimes. We once hosted a panel of public information officers from Russia and, in 2018, "Morning Joe" anchor Joe Scarborough dropped in to talk to us about the importance of a free press.

Every other year, the committee hosted either a Journalism School for Judges or a Law School for Journalists. We brought reporters into courtrooms for mock plea bargaining proceedings and invited them into the state women's prison and the state crime laboratory to see from the inside how those agencies work. 

We had judges write their own news stories and produce TV newscasts so that they have a better understanding of the news industry. We spiced up the programs with guest appearances from people like UConn women's basketball coach Geno Auriemma and former Major League Baseball player and manager Bobby Valentine, who offered their services for free, and there were always plenty of home-baked goodies.

If it sounds like fun, it was. But there was also the occasional tense moment, when journalists and judges disagreed on an issue.

We compromised, and civility ruled.

The committee is in good hands. Eric Parker of WFSB, a journalist and an attorney, will now be the co-chair with Judge Joan Alexander. Several new members have joined, and frankly, the roster looks like a dream team.

And don't worry about the courts beat at The Day. Staff Writer Taylor Hartz has dived right in to covering cops and courts and is writing a biweekly newsletter called Crime & Justice Review.

Now that my job is focused on reader engagement, I'll be involved with some fun events originating from The Day, so stay tuned for specifics.

And don't forget we're always interested in hearing your thoughts about the stories and other content we produce.

Karen Florin is The Day's engagement editor. She can be reached at k.florin@theday.com.

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