Circuit Judge Brad Karren of Bentonville today ordered a television news reporter to serve three days in jail for violating an order against making an audio recording of a hearing in his court, according to a report in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
KNWA reporter Nkiruka Omeronge was found in contempt of court for making the recording Oct. 7 during a hearing in Mauricio Torres’ capital murder case. She said she made the recording for note-taking purposes, not for broadcast, and had not seen the judge’s order in June against recording. She also said she had not seen posted signs warning against electronic recordings of court hearings.
According to the D-G, Karren sentenced the reporter to 10 days for contempt of court, but suspended seven. She is to begin serving the sentence Wednesday. He also gave her six months’ probation and barred her from covering the Torres trial. Omeronge, who’s known on-air as Nkiruka Azuka, will be allowed to leave jail to go to work. I’m seeking a response from KNWA on whether an appeal is planned and for comment on the decision.
Karren has had at least one run-in with a reporter before, but that reporter’s violation of an order, in the form of a published Tweet, produced a much lighter punishment.
In 2015, Karren found a KFSM reporter had Tweeted the verdict in a murder case from court. He did not send the reporter to jail. Then-reporter Larry Henry acknowledged in an ensuing controversy on whether the station cut a deal for light treatment that he had violated the rule, but said it was unintentional. The station manager said it also “volunteered” to do a positive thing, a story on a topic of interest to the judge — children’s advocacy. But he insisted it was no quid pro quo between the station and Karren.
Karren was reprimanded in 2012 by the Arkansas Judicial Disability and Discipline Commission for his handling of a case of a juvenile related to one of his employees and for setting a bond for a rape suspect he’d once represented in private practice lower than that requested by the prosecutor. Karren agreed he’d violated a number of rules of conduct. He received a written reprimand and agreed not to do it again.
Karren rejected the plea by Omeronge’s lawyer that jail time wasn’t necessary to teach her a lesson. She said she’d intended no disrespect for the judge and came from work in another state where audio recordings of court proceedings are allowed. Arkansas judges have the discretion to allow them.