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Decision to limit media access in Noor trial causes uproar

Journalists and media outlets are "vehemently" opposing the judge's ruling.
Mohamed Noor

This week, a Hennepin County district judge made a decision that will significantly limit media access to the murder trial of Mohamed Noor, and journalists aren't happy about it. 

Noor, a former Minneapolis police officer, is charged with 2nd-degree intentional murder, 3rd degree murder and manslaughter in the shooting of Justine Damond, which happened while he was on duty in 2017.

Though it's "one of the biggest murder trials in Minnesota history," Judge Kathryn L. Quaintance has decided to cut access to "full in person coverage" in the courtroom, limiting public seating to "just 11 seats," a release from Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists (MNSPJ) says.

The judge has also issued orders stating that "reporters can't seek interviews from attorneys, witnesses or jurors involved in the case, (which) could amount to unconstitutional prior restraint," the organization said in a tweet. 

Prior restraint refers to "government action that prohibits speech or other expression before the speech happens," Cornell Law School notes, adding that it's often found to be in violation of the First Amendment. 

Additionally, the Star Tribune reports, the trial will be held in courtroom that's about "half the size of some others in the building."

The paper says Quaintance issued the orders  "to preserve 'order and decorum,'" in what is sure to be a high-profile case. 

Nonetheless, the MNSPJ is not mincing words in its reaction to the restrictions, calling them "unprecedented," and urging the court to reverse them:

We call on the chief judge of Hennepin County court along with Minnesota Supreme Court administration to change the courtroom in this case to allow for the largest possible space and fully open access to this important trial.

These kind of restrictions are unprecedented in the history of Minnesota jurisprudence. We consider these restrictions serious breaches of the public trust.

However, it should be noted that reporters will still have access to the proceedings via "an overflow room with video and audio," which the media petitioned for and was granted, MNSPJ says.

Noor fatally shot Damond while investigating a possible sex assault behind the woman's house, as she had called 911 to report the crime. He and his partner reported being startled by a loud noise shortly before Damond approached their squad car, at which point Noor opened fire. 

He pleaded not guilty to the charges against him earlier this month; his trial is set to begin April 1. 

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