Courts news

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 mur-der 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 Wat-kins’ 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 “both the common law and the Act reflect the same basic principle: for something to be a court record, it must be filed with the court.”