Signs like these are going up outside all Arizona courts, including Green Valley Justice Court where this was taken. 

The next time you head to court for jury duty or to pay a fine, you may notice something a little different — signs saying you're not allowed to use recording devices inside the courthouse or courtroom without prior approval.

They aren't new rules, but thanks to a spate of incidents around the state, the Arizona Supreme Court recently decided courts need to do a better job about letting people know about them, said Aaron Nash, a spokesman with the court.

In Arizona and nationally, individuals calling themselves First Amendment Auditors have been going into police stations, courthouses, city council chambers and libraries with cameras and then posting video of the officials' reactions on YouTube or while live-streaming online, Nash said.

Auditors have appeared at post offices in Queen Creek and Goodyear, at police stations in Benson and Peoria, at a Gilbert water plant and at the Surprise City Court in recent months.

Several auditors, who typically refuse to identify themselves, have been arrested across the U.S., and at least one, a woman in Los Angeles, was shot by a security guard outside a synagogue in February.

In May, the Arizona State Troopers Association offered advice to officers who encounter such auditors, saying "they are looking for an inappropriate response by law enforcement, or to be unlawfully detained."

Filming inside courtrooms and courthouses is problematic for several reasons, Nash said.

Imagine, he said, a woman visiting a courthouse to ask that an order of protection be served the next day on her abusive husband while he's at work and she's moving her children and herself to a safe place.

"If the abuser sees that video being live-streamed and he sees his wife, he's going to ask her what she was doing at the court," Nash said.

Trial witnesses and jurors could also be caught on video, he said.

Rule 122, which prohibits the use of recording devices in courtrooms, was implemented in 1993. Rule 122.1, which prohibits the use of such devices in the courthouse, went into effect in 2013.

Nash stressed not everyone who pulls out a cell phone to record inside a courthouse or courtroom is doing so for nefarious reasons. They might like the court's architecture, but now they'll know they need advance approval.

'Taunted' by cameras

Presiding Pima County Superior Court Judge Kyle Bryson said two auditors have visited his court in recent months. In one incident, the auditor "taunted" security guards and the court security manager on the courthouse steps, all of whom remained "stoic and professional."

During the other incident, an auditor approached a clerk outside an employee entrance and demanded her name and title, he said. That auditor was arrested.

Because Tucson Municipal Court had been visited by auditors, Bryson said staff knew what to expect and was prepared.

While auditors often proclaim their right to film in public places, the U.S. Supreme Court has spelled out that there is a difference between public forums and non-public forums and the courts fall into the later, Bryson said.

In addition to worrying about jurors and victims being caught on tape, the judge said he is concerned someone could exploit a court security weaknesses they might see.

Green Valley Justice of the Peace Ray Carroll said auditors have not yet made an appearance at his court, but a prosecutor did catch someone filming an arraignment. That person was unaware of the rules.

In another instance, Carroll said he temporarily stopped a proceeding because he suspected someone was recording it, but the person said they weren't.

Flyers were posted last week at his courthouse advising people of the rules, he said.

Sahuarita Municipal Court Judge Maria Avilez said that to her knowledge, nobody has tried to record at her courthouse, surreptitiously or otherwise.

"I'm very surprised because I know other courts have been having a problem, like Superior Court and Tucson Municipal Court," she said. "We're so lucky, I guess."

Avilez said she's in the process of putting together signage for her courthouse.

"I know I wouldn't want to be a defendant making a payment and being filmed," she said.

Kim Smith | 520-547-9740


Reporter Kim Smith moved to Arizona from Michigan when she was 16. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a degree in journalism in 1989. She has worked at seven newspapers of varying size in Arizona, Texas and Nevada.

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