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In re Smith

United States District Court, District of Nevada

May 12, 2015

In re Natalie Smith

ORDER

This case arises from Natalie Smith’s use of a cellular device to take pictures in a federal courtroom during court proceedings. On August 27, 2013, Smith was present in the courtroom observing a trial to which her friend was a party. (Tr. 3:11–13, ECF No. 6). Smith was seen taking pictures of the parties and the courtroom with the camera feature of her cellular phone. She was approached by a court security officer who informed her that taking pictures or recordings during court proceedings violates local rules. The security officer informed the Court of Smith’s conduct.

The Court held a brief contempt hearing during which Smith was asked whether she had taken pictures in the courtroom. She answered in the affirmative, indicating that she had photographed the plaintiffs, the defendants, and the courtroom. (Id. at 2:9–22). The Court further informed Smith of the standing court order prohibiting people from “using cell phones or recording or operating them in court in session.” (Id. at 2:15–17). When asked why the Court should not confiscate the phone as a contempt sanction, Smith answered that she had been unaware of the rule and that she had deleted the photographs. (Id. at 2:24–3:3). As a precautionary measure, however, and in order to preserve the integrity of the trial as well as for the safety of the Judge and Jury, the Court found Smith in contempt and asked her to turn her phone over to the courtroom administrator. (Id. at 3:14–18).

On September 6, 2013, the Court issued a formal order finding that Smith had engaged in contemptuous conduct by violating the Court’s existing order that barred pictures or cameras in the courtroom and the actual taking of pictures of parties. (Sept. 6, 2013 Order, ECF No. 3). The Court recited LR IA 9-1(c), which states in relevant part:

Cameras, recording, reproducing and transmitting equipment, which are part of a wireless communication device, shall not be used in any courtroom or hearing room without the express approval of the presiding judge or officer. Failure to abide by this Rule may result in the forfeiture of any such device.

Finding that Smith had clearly violated this standing order by taking pictures of the parties during the proceedings, the Court ordered that the cellular phone used to take the photographs be permanently forfeited to the United States. (Id.).

On September 16, 2013, Smith filed an Objection to the Court’s contempt order. In her Objection, Smith argued that she was provided no notice that using her cellular device to take photographs in the courtroom was prohibited. (Objection 1, ECF No. 6). She further argued that the Court’s factual findings were inaccurate because Smith claimed that she did not take pictures of the Judge or the Jury, and the photographs were not taken in the Judge’s presence. (Id. at 2 (referencing portions of the Sept. 6, 2013 Order stating that the contemptuous conduct was performed “in the Judge’s own presence” and that Smith took pictures of the Judge and Jurors)).

Smith’s final argument was that she was treated differently than other similarly situated people who she believed also used cellular devices in the courtroom. (Id. at 2–3). In sum, Smith contended that the contempt order “denied and deprived her due process, equal protection and trial rights” by confiscating her cell phone. (Id. at 3).

Before the Court could rule on the Objection, on October 4, 2013, Smith filed an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. On December 12, 2014, the Ninth Circuit remanded the appeal to this Court for the limited purpose of determining whether Smith’s filing on September 16, 2013 “is a motion listed in Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)4, and if so, [the Court’s] resolution of the motion.” (9th Cir. Order 1–2, ECF No. 13). This Order therefore addresses these two issues.

Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 4(a)(4) states:

If a party timely files in the district court any of the following motions under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the time to file an appeal runs for all parties from the entry of the order disposing of the last such remaining motion:
(i) for judgment under Rule 50(b);
(ii) to amend or make additional factual findings under Rule 52(b), whether or not granting the motion would alter the judgment;
(iii) for attorney’s fees under Rule 54 if the district court extends the time ...

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