High court up­holds rul­ing on ac­cess to record­ings

Undis­closed LLC wanted to record the tapes from Joey Watkins’ mur­der trial as part of an au­dio series.

Rome News-Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - By John Bai­ley Manag­ing Ed­i­tor JBai­ley@RN-T.com

The Geor­gia Supreme Court agreed with a Floyd County judge’s de­ci­sion to not al­low a com­pany to copy a court re­porter’s backup au­dio record­ings from a 2001 mur­der trial.

Jus­tices af­firmed that Floyd County Su­pe­rior Court Judge Billy Sparks was cor­rect to al­low Undis­closed LLC to lis­ten to the record­ings but not al­low them to make copies — which were not part of the court’s of­fi­cial record, the opin­ion stated.

The pod­cast sought to record the tapes from Joey Watkins’ 2001 mur­der trial as part of an au­dio series where they ex­am­ined his case and trial.

Watkins was con­victed of shoot­ing and killing Isaac Dawkins on Jan. 11, 2000, while driv­ing on U.S. 27 near Geor­gia High­lands Col­lege. Watkins is serv­ing a life sen­tence plus five years in prison on mur­der, stalk­ing and weapons charges.

In 2003, the Supreme Court of Geor­gia up­held Watkins’ con­vic­tion and sen­tence.

Sparks, in his or­der, said Geor­gia’s Uni­form Su­pe­rior Court Rule 21 states court records are pub­lic and al­lows pub­lic in­spec­tion of the court re­porter’s backup record­ings, but, Sparks wrote, it does not en­ti­tle them to “copies of a court

re­porter’s backup tapes/ record­ings.”

Undis­closed ap­pealed that de­ci­sion. On Mon­day, Jus­tices agreed Rule 21 gives the right for the pub­lic to copy court records, as de­fined by the com­mon law and Gen­eral Assem­bly, but court records “in­clude only those ma­te­ri­als filed with the court, which the record­ing in ques­tion was not,” the opin­ion stated.

The opin­ion stated, “for some­thing to be a court record, it must be filed with the court.”

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