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Amidst the suits seated in a packed Northampton, Mass., courtroom during the Supreme Judicial Court’s recent visit were nose rings, cargo shorts and cut-off jean jackets worn by students who came to see Massachusetts’ highest court in action. Holyoke High School junior Xavier Garcia cited a Plymouth, Mass., permit dispute case — Baker v. Parsons — one of five cases before the SJC. “It was interesting to hear how both sides said different things about the same subject.” Garcia was one of 50 high school and college students attending the April 2 oral arguments before the SJC in Hampshire Superior Court. The court travels twice a year as part of a community outreach effort to make the court more accessible to communities outside of Boston. Since 1993, the SJC has heard arguments in Salem, Plymouth, Worcestor, Barnstable, Springfield, Lowell, Pittsfield, Greenfield, Fall River and Brockton, Mass. The last time the court sat in Northampton was in 1993. “It is great that the court is going to different places,” said lawyer Jacqueline L. Allen of Boston. “This is the first time I have ever [traveled] in the road show.” Before arguing on behalf of her client, Allen took in Northampton’s sites. Allen represented appellee Katherine Parsons in the case of Baker v. Parsons. The case stemmed from John Baker’s seeking to obtain a building permit for a pier on his property on Clark’s Island in Plymouth Harbor, Mass. Parsons objected. Baker, who subsequently received the permit and built the pier, claimed that Parsons had made false statements to federal and state agencies in order to defeat his application. Baker also alleged harm as a result of the statements. Baker, whose complaint was dismissed as a “SLAPP” suit, had challenged a lower court’s findings that he did not meet his burden of demonstrating that Parsons’ petitioning activities were devoid of any reasonable basis in fact or law. The lower court also ruled that Baker failed to show that the defendants caused actual damage to him. Other cases heard by the SJC that day included that of a man charged with secretly tape-recording conversations with police when pulled over for a routine traffic stop in Commonwealth v. Michael Hyde. The defendant, who was found in violation of the state’s electronic surveillance statute, argued on appeal that the police did not have any privacy interests in what they said, and that his recordings did not violate the statute. Plymouth County, Mass., prosecutor Robert Thompson argued police are entitled to the same protections under the law as other citizens and that the statute bans all secret recordings of any citizen by anyone. However, several justices questioned the impact the statute could have on news reporters and even amateur cameramen. “There are some very well-known instances where citizens have videotaped police activity,” said SJC Chief Justice Margaret H. Marshall, pointing out that video cameras automatically record voice as well as pictures. “It seems to me that the Massachusetts Legislature did not intend to curtail this form of citizen action,” Marshall said. However, Thompson said, if voices were recorded, the law could apply. “The statute doesn’t prohibit video,” he said. “Isn’t that an absurd result?” asked Justice Robert Cordy. Thompson maintained one difference was a video camera was more visible and easily noticed. “The statute doesn’t say anything about privacy,” said Justice Martha Sosman, pointing out that without prior permission, it would also prohibit the recording of a person giving a “very public” speech to an audience of several hundred people.

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