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Tribune gets crossways with judge in Smart case



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SALT LAKE CITY -- Elizabeth Smart's testimony drew considerable media interest from around the country, and in the middle of the media horde, controversy erupted.

The Salt Lake Tribune was called on the carpet and faced possible sanctions from a federal judge.

Early this week the judge issued an order prohibiting recording or broadcasting of court proceedings from inside the courthouse. The Tribune got into trouble by using an email tag team to produce a minute by minute, almost word for word transcript.

Terry Orme, the Tribune's managing editor for news, said because of the great public interest in Smart's testimony, the newspaper sent two reporters to a courthouse overflow room to listen and type Smart's words as accurately as they could.

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"We had an initial plan where our reporters were going to go out on Main Street, outside of the courthouse, and send their emails," he said.

However, just before court began, Orme said, a Tribune reporter asked an official in the overflow room for guidance. "A federal marshal...indicated to us that emailing from the room probably would be OK," Orme said. "We thought we were OK with that."

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The result was a near-verbatim transcript on the Tribune's website, running with roughly a half hour delay all morning. When court officials realized what was happening, they told the Tribune to stop emailing and take the transcript off the website.

Tribune officials wound up in the judge's chambers explaining themselves.

The court issued a statement saying, "The Court has been made aware of possible violations" of Judge Dale Kimball's previous decorum order. It continues, "The use of wireless and related electronic devices to record or to broadcast any court proceedings is expressly forbidden."

"You know," Orme said, "the reading of the written order, I think in retrospect, I can see their point of view that perhaps we did violate it."

Other news organizations had asked court officials earlier in the week, and were denied permission to do essentially what the Tribune did. Orme admits his staff initially thought emailing was forbidden until the marshal said it was OK.

"We do follow decorum orders," Orme said, "and we respect them."

The judge has taken no action to punish the Tribune, but it's not clear if this is the end of it. When KSL asked the U.S. Attorney's Office about it, a spokeswoman said, "We're not in a position to comment on that right now. We're still investigating."

E-mail: hollenhorst@ksl.com

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John Hollenhorst

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