Howard County Maryland Blog

Convention of States in Maryland

Archive for October 23rd, 2018

When is a news story a news story?

Posted by David Keelan on Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The fact that this has not received in depth news coverage is a news story in itself.

It is understandable that reporters must be careful when reporting on events that negatively reflect on an individual’s behavior and actions.

The reporter and news organization must adhere to a set of principles that verify and corroborate the incident through reliable sources. A journalist should not attempt to publish a story without following strict guidelines.  Ethical journalism is intended to enlighten the public on matters that are of public interest through an accurate and fair process.

But how long does it take to report a verified story that has important implications and is of obvious public interest?

The events of September 30, 2018 in which the current Register of Wills, Byron Macfarlane, gave his secure access card to a group of people who then used Mr. Macfarlane’s card to enter the courthouse after hours and without his presence is certainly a news story and of public interest.

I have spoken to reporters about his incident. Each one of them asks, “Has it been verified” to which I reply, yes. However, you cannot take my word for it and I encourage them to call the Sheriff’s office, or the Administrative Judge’s office. The Sheriff’s office may be reluctant to discuss it but they are not going to lie about it either.

This incident has been documented in a Sheriff’s office report to the Maryland Courts. When asked if the elected official responsible for the breach of security was Byron Macfarlane the Sheriff’s office affirms that it was Byron Macfarlane.

This incident became known publically when a lawyer, who conducts business at the Howard County Courthouse, discussed the events in exasperation and wondering aloud what the Administrative Judge was going to do to address the incident, and prevent further occurrences.

An elected official, Mr. Macfarlane, permitted afterhours access to an unauthorized group of people and failed to grace them with his presence as they entered the courthouse. The courthouse is a secure facility. One only need to consider the metal detector, and the deputy sheriffs operating the screening procedures at the public entrance to the building that there are security procedures and concerns that require controlled access. Mr. Macfarlane’s office is in the courthouse and he observes these procedures every time he enters the courthouse. I don’t know whether he observes the same security procedures as the general public. Whenever I have been to the courthouse I have had to follow those security procedures.

Why do courthouses have security procedures? Seems obvious to me. But apparently it is not as obvious to Mr. Macfarlane (despite his 4 year term as the Register of Wills working in the Courthouse).

A courthouse is a public facility and vulnerable to acts of violence. The safety of people, documents, and property is clearly important. So is the integrity of the judicial process. To that end procedures have been created and enacted. Mr. Macfarlane either does not appreciate this or thinks he is immune to security protocols.

Courthouses are not immune from violence. On September 12, 2011 a man went on a rampage in Crawford County, Arkansas looking for a judge and shot the judge’s case coordinator. On December 15, 2011 a man convicted of sexual assault in Grand Marais County, Minnesota shot the county attorney and the father of one of the his victims. It happens more frequently than we would like to think about.

Citation: https://ncsc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/facilities/id/182

Allowing an unescorted group of people (I heard a 20 person film crew) to enter the courthouse after hours could lead to a catastrophic injury, loss of life, breach of integrity of ongoing cases, loss of vital documents and records, physical damage to security equipment and the building.

So, I am at a loss. The journalists in print, radio, and television know about this incident, they read the blogs and the facebook posts. They understand there is a great deal of public interest in this story. Why won’t they do the same investigating that dozens of private citizens have conducted?

The fact that this has not received in depth news coverage is a news story in itself.

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