First Amendment

Defendant can be required to write essay on respect for judiciary and to delete negative comments, appeals court says

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A judge didn’t err when he ordered a frequent Facebook poster who violated a ban on courtroom recording to write an essay on respect for the judiciary and to delete negative posts, according to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

The Volokh Conspiracy noted the Dec. 3 opinion, which included a dissent by a judge who argued the requirement that the defendant delete negative comments raised “deeply troubling constitutional problems.”

“This compelled speech silencing third-party viewpoints expressed in response to compelled speech raises serious First Amendment concerns,” said the dissenter, Judge Christopher Brook.

The defendant, Davin Eldridge, was sentenced after being held in criminal contempt for ignoring written and spoken warnings that he could not record in the courtroom. He had been warned by an officer working the metal detector at the Macon County courthouse entrance, by an officer in the courtroom where Eldridge was recording, and by the courtroom judge.

Eldridge, a frequent poster to a Facebook page called “Trappalachia,” nonetheless posted courtroom proceedings, including the prosecutor’s closing argument. Eldridge was found guilty of criminal contempt in a January hearing and given a 30-day sentence, which would be suspended if certain conditions were met for a one-year period.

One of the conditions was that Eldridge write a 2,000- to 3,000-word essay on the subject “Respect for the Court System is Essential to the Fair Administration of Justice.” Eldridge was required to forward the essay to the judge for approval before he posted it on all his social media or internet accounts.

During that time, the essay could not include negative criticism by Eldridge or others.

He was also banned from attending court sessions unless he received advance approval and complied with other provisions of the order.

The court majority found no abuse of discretion given Eldridge’s “questionable and intentional conduct, his frequent visits to the courtroom, and his direct willingness to disobey courtroom policies.”

The conditions “are reasonably related to the necessity of preventing further disruptions of the court by defendant’s conduct, and the need to provide accountability without unduly infringing on his rights,” the majority said in an opinion by Judge Wanda Bryant.

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