Merchant Law Firm, P.C. v. EmersonAnnotate this Case
In the course of representing criminal defendants in two cases, an attorney at the Merchant Law Firm participated in three hearings before Judge David Emerson in June and October 2015. Each of these proceedings was open to the public and audio-recorded by court reporter Melissa Cantrell, who subsequently transcribed the hearings. The Firm emailed Cantrell, requesting copies of the audio recordings of the three hearings. Cantrell responded, stating that she had consulted with Judge Emerson, who advised that the Firm should file a motion in order to make a formal request for the recordings. Later that day, the Firm emailed Cantrell (copied to Judge Emerson) that “no such motion is needed, and any instruction that these tapes be withheld until a motion is filed (and presumably ruled upon) is contrary to the Court’s rules and the long-established black letter law in Georgia regarding the public’s access to court records.” When such a motion was ultimately made, the Judge denied it, and the Firm petitioned the Georgia Supreme Court for mandamus relief, arguing: (1) the right of access to court records, as provided by Uniform Superior Court Rules 21 through 21.6 (“Rule 21”), included the right to make copies of the recordings; (2) the Firm lacked an adequate legal remedy to vindicate that right; and (3) public officials violated their public duties by refusing to allow the Firm to make copies. The Supreme Court found Rule 21 indeed provided an adequate remedy at law, thus the Court affirmed dismissal of the Firm’s mandamus and injunctive claims. The Court also affirmed dismissal of the Firm’s claim for declaratory judgment, because such a claim cannot be used as a collateral attack on Judge Emerson’s order.