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Judge Eases Media Rules for Sandusky Hearing; Court Officials Looked to Other Cases

on December 12, 2011 9:35 PM

Reporters covering Jerry Sandusky's preliminary hearing Tuesday in Bellefonte will be allowed to distribute news via Twitter, text messages and e-mails immediately as the proceedings unfold, a judge ruled Monday.

Several news organizations, including The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times and CNN, asked the presiding senior judge, John M. Cleland, to amend his earlier decorum order for the hearing. In that order, issued Dec. 6, Cleland had banned all electronic communication from the courtroom and from an adjacent annex room where other reporters will see a live feed of the proceedings.

The altered, loosened guidelines apply only to credentialed members of the news media, according to a court announcement. Non-reporter members of the general public who attend the hearing will not be allowed to bring mobile phones or laptops into the courtroom, per Cleland's order.

Also, a longstanding Pennsylvania rule prohibiting cameras during court proceedings will remain in effect.

Cleland has put into place a number of other rules for the hearing. For one thing, anyone -- any reporter or member of the general public -- who leaves the courtroom for any reason will not be allowed to return until a break or a recess in the proceedings.

Also, no food or beverages will be allowed in the courtroom. Only those who've already received tickets or credentials will be allowed entry as observers. (Those allowed observers include about 300 people: 200 journalists -- split between the main courtroom and the annex room -- and 100 members of the general public. The selected members of the general public will be allowed access in the main courtroom only.)

Cleland crafted the guidelines with substantial input from the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts (AOPC), court spokesman Jim Koval said.

"The underlying philosophy was to treat all media outlets equally and fairly, and to provide as much access to the court procedings as allowed by court rule," Koval said.

After Bush v. Gore, the landmark 2000 case that commanded national media attention, he said, the AOPC devised a just-in-case plan for coping with a deluge of media attention.

The plan was designed to handle a media onslaught if a U.S. presidential election were to hinge on a dispute here, in Pennsylvania, Koval said.

He said that plan provided some direction as Cleland planned for the Sandusky hearing Tuesday.

"We went through all that preparation," Koval said. "We had that book of knowledge that we used as our starting point for this."

The AOPC also studied high-profile cases going back to the O.J. Simpson criminal trial in 1995, he said.

Plus, Koval said, the organization drew on guidance from a national association of court-information officers.

"We didn't start from a blank slate," he said.

The Sandusky hearing, an initial step in the court process, is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday in the Centre County Courthouse. It's expected to last much of the day -- at the least.

Bellefonte borough officials have closed sections of Allegheny and High streets to accommodate news-media vehicles.

Sandusky, a former Penn State football coach and The Second Mile founder, is accused of a prolonged pattern of child sexual abuse. Grand-jury presentments in the case list 10 alleged victims over a roughly 15-year period.

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