The publisher of the Alamance, N.C., News was removed from court last week after he objected to a judge’s decision to block reporters from attending a hearing in a case that has been a focus for local Black Lives Matter activists, reports the Raleigh News & Observer. Tom Boney Jr. was requesting a hearing on whether it’s appropriate to close the court to the media. Reporters had been told that no journalists were allowed in Alamance County’s Historic Courthouse, where Judge Fred Wilkins was presiding over the case against Sandrea Brazee, a 52-year-old woman accused of driving her car at two girls of color. The reporters asked for a hearing, but were told by deputies that Wilkins had made his decision. Like Boney, they had been kept from attending a high-profile court hearing the week before involving the leader of an October march to the polls, which ended with police pepper-spraying attendees.
Boney hand-delivered a letter to two senior judges asking that they remind other judges that courtrooms must remain open to the public despite COVID-19 precautions. “We believe there is a paramount responsibility to find ways to comply with the N.C. Constitution’s requirement “All courts shall be open,” Boney wrote. In court, Wilkins said he would hold Boney in contempt after Boney tried to explain his objection. “The courtroom is not closed,” the judge said, gesturing to more than two dozen people in the room. “It’s closed to you.” Wilkins said only defendants, victims or attorneys could be in the courtroom. When Boney continued pressing his case, the judge said, “You’re going to jail,” and Boney was hauled out of the room. The publisher was handcuffed, then told that if he would leave, Wilkins would not pursue the contempt charge.