COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) – A circuit judge briefly seized a cassette tape from an Associated Press newsman Friday, saying the reporter should have sought permission to bring a recorder into the courtroom.

Judge James R. Barber stopped a hearing and had a court staffer remove the tape after noticing the recorder resting on a ledge behind attorneys.

“He asked for my name. He asked what I was doing. He asked if I knew that I could not tape the proceedings without permission and that I hadn’t sought permission,” sports writer Pete Iacobelli said.

Iacobelli was attending a hearing for a University of South Carolina football player who was seeking the judge’s permission to leave the state while out on bond on theft charges.

Later Friday, Barber agreed to return the tape after holding it for more than six hours. He would not comment when reached by phone.

South Carolina courts generally allow reporters to use hand-held recorders, though judges still have discretion over what occurs in their courtrooms.

Iacobelli said he has taken recorders into courtrooms in the past without a problem.

Newspaper photographers and television cameramen commonly submit written requests for access to South Carolina courtrooms, but it has never been a practice to make formal requests to use hand-held recorders, according to John Shurr, Associated Press bureau chief in South Carolina.

The judge had no right to take the reporter’s property without due process, said Jay Bender, a Columbia attorney who represents several media organizations in the state, including The Associated Press.

“Even if the judge was right on the rule, he was wrong on the remedy,” he said.

Dave Tomlin, assistant general counsel for the news cooperative, praised the judge’s decision to return the tape.

“We are very pleased that the judge had second thoughts about his right to seize property without due process, and we appreciate that the change of heart came so quickly,” he said.


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