UPDATE: Judge clarifies stance; will let media in Berger hearing

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Submitted: Wed, 09/14/2011 - 12:41am

UPDATE: New Hanover County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Sgt. Jerry Brewer says Judge Sandra Ray Criner has clarified her decision on allowing media into a hearing later this week.

Brewer says Criner called Sheriff Ed McMahon Tuesday evening and said media she will allow reporters into her courtroom for Friday’s protective order hearing against New Hanover County Commissioner Brian Berger. Criner, though, decided cameras would not be allowed during the hearing.


WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) — We have learned that District Court Judge Sandra Ray Criner is considering banning all media from New Hanover County Commissioner Brian Berger’s protective order hearing Friday.

It’s not unusual for a judge to ban cameras in the courtroom, but it’s very rare for one to ban reporters from sitting the courtroom and taking notes.

Berger’s ex-girlfriend Heather Blaylock took out a protective order last week against Berger. He was served minutes after a news conference where he announced he would not resign.

Both have been in the media countless times since January when DSS investigated to see if Blaylock’s children, who were living with Berger, were living in unsuitable conditions. Neither DSS, Berger or Blaylock would tell us what the outcome of the investiagtion was.

WWAY has contacted the North Carolina Association of Broadcasters to get more information on media law and courtroom issues regarding the banning of reporters from a public hearing.


  • Guest461 says:

    …and most of you couldn’t wrestle yourself out of a wet paper bag during a hail storm! You’re talking about “impeaching and disbarring” a judge that has been on the bench for a long time and has a good record. You on the other hand, likely have a criminal record, you have an admitted stint in a mental facility and obviously a bit of a problem getting along with others.

    I would highly recommend that you save youself a tremedous amount of trouble AND embarrasment by shutting up and abiding by her order!

  • James says:

    Scott Kenan is a Fussy, Crybaby who if he can’t get his own way he blogs about it making him the Victim when we are the Victim. Scott is a Racist who believes in the old clan ways and has gone as far as to say that Our President should be hung(This is in his Blog) Scott is a pathetic use of human space calling church members Child Molesters and other lies. His blog can be viewed at scottkenan.blogspot.com

  • Scott Kenan says:

    . . . in her handling of a restraining order of me on 10/10/11. Today, I will find out how to make a legal complaint. Brenda McKnight who was my roommate/landlord at 2726 Oleander Dr. falsely first had me committed to a mental hospital (The Oaks) and then as I was getting out had a Family Violence Restraining order served to me so I could not retrieve my property or occupy the space in her house I had already paid rent for. This because of pressure put on her by Gerald Austin-Wynn who testified at the hearing on Oct. 10 in Judge Criner’s court.

    Problem was that neither Brenda nor Gerald were in court or the hallway outside (Judge Criner had it searched), so she dismissed the Restraining Order. I made sure I heard right by getting her to verify that before I left the court room.

    Leaving the court house, I passed Brenda and Gerald coming in (presumably from a smoke break, although they’d left twenty minutes before). Ten minutes later after I’d talked to some people on the sidewalk and then smoked most of a cigarette myself, the bailiff called me back into court. I felt this was wrong, but complied. Judge Criner immediately began the hearinig as if she had never dismissed the case and found for the plaintiff!!!

    She will be impeached and disbarred after I finish dealing with her in court.

    Scott D. Kenan

  • Sam says:

    District Court Judge Sandra Ray Criner has a right to do whatever she thinks is best for this case , she can take any measures she wishes. She is a judge and this is her court room , she is the law that we elected to be so now its our turn to trust her and the decisions she makes. Berger is also an elected official that this community voted for so if you are not happy with this than maybe you need to rethink your ballot choices …

  • guesty says:

    Mr. Townsend doesn’t have any complaint of invasion of privacy since everybody knows that anything sent or received on a government email server is subject to be disclosed at anytime.

  • Guest28451 says:

    Many times sensitive and personal information comes out in court that does not need to be public record inspite of the fact that one of the parties is a public figure they still have a right to expect a certain amount of privacy. While I Still feel Brian needs to step away and step down from the NHCC, I continue to be disgusted by the whiney National Enquirer mentality of WWAY. I notice no appology for posting those emails has been forthcoming as they were not relivant or news worthy other then to drag out more private personal details of Mr Berger as well as Mr Townsend(whom I actually hope considers filing a big fat lawsuit against Channel 3 for invasion of privacy). I wish the judge would have stuck to her guns because as I said that while most legal matters are open for public, however certain issues should remain subject to some sense of privacy when sensitive personal issues shouldnt be subject to being fodder for public consumption.

  • Willbedone says:

    If he was a county employee he’d been fired by now for lying about unemployment, false claims, drugs, arrests. I say let’s break out the handbook and see what we can get him on, he needs to go!

  • Guest9531 says:

    How many other “county” employees or workers have had protective orders taken out and reporters have NOT been banned from the court room, so why now? Berger is a COUNTY employee… who was voted into office, he is not a person of celebrity status. Is this going to be the expectation for future “county” employees or workers that if they have a court case the Media will be banned?? And exactly how can you tell a person of “media” verses the regular courtroom individuals, many times we have sat in a courtroom proceeding and watched people write stuff, doesn’t mean they are reporters.The hearing is PUBLIC and the media should be allowed.

  • Guest28451 says:

    I for one would have a hard time believeing and supporting the media being present in sensative cases especially those involving intrafamily conflicts and other sensitive issues. Not everything is bloody fodder for the shark infested media. No wonder Virginia has a seperate courts for Juvinelle and Domestic relations apart from the normal General District and Circuit Courts because at least there somethings can be kept quiet.. Again Not everything is suitable for public consumption this bloody tabloid reality mentality our citizens have is disgusting in my estimation. Peoples reputations being destroyed over accusations that turn out not to be fact are the prime reasons why the needs of the media need to be balanced with the need for respect of privacy of the individuals involved.

  • Guest28451 says:

    Ok true but lets be honest the emails werent released under subpeona or any other legit reason other then some smarmy peice of human garbage decided to release them to the public in some attempt of sensationalism. Personally I find the email release disgusting if I was the head of IT Id immediately find out who released the emails adn have them terminated because there was no legitimate legal or other reason to release those emails except for somebody trying to dig up dirt on Brian Berger (which they didnt really succeed in). Just tell me WHAT legitimate purpose the release of those emails served.. Was it some legal requirement? Was it for Freedom of Information and if so who reqeusted it and why(all FOIA requests much have legitimate purpose) and until and unless somebody can provide a legit reason for those emails to have been made publc I stand by my statement. Additionally, Actions like this just actually give Berger legitimacy in his claims about people digging up stuff (IE the release of information which Sheriff McDonalds (Intentional) claims went no where. Well somebody sure as heck pulled the info and released it for nefarious reasons. Seems to me there is a pocket protecter wearing little worm working in the county government that seems to think its his job to root out the evil that is Brian Berger (having worked in IT just a word of advice yuo leave ane elctronic fingerprint no matter how careful you are. YOU WILL BE CAUGHT and when you are I hope you have plenty of money saved up because your termination will be pubilc record as well and good luck ever getting a job with “public trust” requirements ever again.

  • guesty says:

    No subpoena is required to see it. It falls under the Freedom of Information Act. Like you said about hoping somebody is fired and their termination will be public record, everything they sent to each other is public record. The firing you hope for might not be disclosed as that could follow under the exclusions for releasing personnel information.

  • Guestpreacher says:

    This is a private matter and the right thing to do is ban all reporters from the courtroom. Not every event or meeting has to be open to reporters if their is reason to make the papparazi covering Berger wait outside. This isn’t just private (Criner would turn the lives of four people into a fishbowl and heather or whatever her name is loves the media and any attention she can get. She’s behind every story and calling the police and media like she is out to destroy him and she has ruined Berger reputation and probably his career and ability to earn a living. Just look at her pictures and how she poses provacatively like a porn actress (she is hot, how’d berger get her).

    There are children the article indicates and to say banning reporters is giving Berger special treatment is acceptable because this is probably the most public case by far Criner has judged probably. I cant remember anything like this. Criner will be playing politics and bowing the media instead of doing the right, Christian thing and not have the private lives of people who havent broken the law and even elected officials deserve some privacy, especially when its a family matter with kids. WWAY will have a temper tandrum but Criner will get over that criticism in a day in the mind of the public. She needs to protect these human beings and recognize this is a special situation so pecial treatment is perfectly reasonable. If she has morals and values she wont cave to media or political pressure and will let them work out their issues in private.

  • Anne Russell says:

    I do not see how this can be permitted, since it is a public courtroom and Berger is a public figure. I hope the media refuses to cooperate with this outrageous and likely illegal maneuver.

  • brendle99 says:

    If she gets away with this, then I want the media banned from all court rooms in the future. This deal don’t seem right to me at all.

  • Marge Ciardella says:

    Why doesn’t WWAY simply contact Judge Criner and CONFIRM whether she is even considering banning the media. Who is your source for your statement that ‘you have information that Judge Criner MAY consider banning the media?’ In addition, when does “MAY” become an absolute?

    Instead of confirming what your alleged source said or let the rest of us know who that ‘source’ is, you write that WWAY is contacting the broadcasting and media organization, thus implying that what your alleged ‘source’ said is true and you want to know what your rights are as to having access to the courtroom!

    What a bunch of nonsense. I cannot imagine any judge in this district, including Judge Criner, closing a courtroom to the media.

    Listen up: The media has access to any courtroom in North Carolina. And you know it! Check your sources and stop your rumor mongering.

    Marge Ciardella

  • taxpayer says:

    will stand guard outside the courtroom in his seersucker suit and straw hat.

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