Monday, June 13, 2011

Pilot Program for Cameras in Federal Courtrooms Diluted by Onerous Restrictions

Drawing of a TV studio cameraImage via WikipediaThe Committee on Court Administration and Case Management of the Judicial Conference of the United States ("CACM") last week unveiled rules governing a three-year pilot program allowing cameras in federal courtrooms, and the restrictions imposed invite the stereotypical temperamental Hollywood director to declare: "I can't work under these conditions!"

Fourteen U.S. District Courts across the nation have agreed to participate in the camera experiment, ranging from the Middle District of Alabama and the District of Kansas to the Northern District of Illinois and the District of Massachusetts. When the 27-member Judicial Conference voted last September to launch the pilot program (see "TUOL" post 9/16/10), several limitations were announced, including restricting video footage to civil proceedings, requiring the consent of all parties involved, and forbidding the videotaping of the faces of jurors or witnesses.

Further restrictions announced last week include using cameras owned by the court or a contractor with the court, giving judges sole control over deciding which proceedings may be recorded, barring recording of jury voir dire or sidebar conferences with counsel and not simulcasting the recordings, but rather, making them available as early as possible. The disappointing limitations announced by CACM reflect a half-hearted effort by the federal courts to open up justice to the viewing public, lacking in the enthusiasm shown by many state courts that have embraced cameras in the courtroom.

Federal courts of appeal judges at their discretion may permit broadcasting of proceedings, but only the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal for the Second Circuit and Ninth Circuit have voted to allow cameras in.

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