Thursday, April 15, 2010

U.S. Court in Mass. Mulls Easing of Cameras Rule

The U.S. District Court in Massachusetts is proposing a rule change that would allow cameras in federal courtrooms. The proposed rule would expressly authorize judges to permit the transmission of court proceedings by broadcast and via the Internet.

The proposal is a response to the decision of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in In re Sony BMG Music Entertainment, where the appeals court ruled that the District Court's current rule blocked U.S. District Judge Nancy Gertner from allowing a music-download case to be webcast.

The proposed changes to the rule would still prohibit cameras in most instances. It would give judges discretion to permit cameras and to place "such limitations and restrictions" on their use as the judge deems appropriate. The rule would also authorize the judge to place restrictions on the use and additional dissemination of the broadcast.

In any case where cameras are allowed, the rule would prohibit them from showing jurors. The rule would allow witnesses and litigants to opt out of being photographed. Also prohibited would be use of cameras to capture sidebar conferences with the judge or discussions between lawyers and their clients.

The court is accepting public comment on the proposed rule until tomorrow, April 16, after which it will decide whether to adopt it.


Stephanie Payne said...

I think the idea of placing restrictions on cameras in the courtroom will be a positive change. The information that goes on during courtrooms is allowed depending on the case. I think that if less information was provided by Internet forums and news and was published more in the newspapers, then that will help keep newspapers around even longer. As a journalism student, I have found such a slowing in the use of newspapers and with mjore laws putting limitations on the Internet and regulated news, even distorted news by the media, then more and more people will drift towards finding factual information out of newspapers.

Shannon Dille said...

Although I think it is wonderful to see that courts are evolving and adopting modern technology in their proceedings, I think that there are some concerns that should be addressed in this particular instance. Specifically, it must be considered that the privacy of those involved with the trial is at stake. There is also the danger of allowing the media to create what would very likely become an inappropriate, circus-like atmosphere around the trial (like in the O.J. Simpson case).

Notably, in the 1965 U.S. Supreme Court case of Estes v. Texas, the Supreme court overturned the conviction of Billy Sol Estes based on the fact that the trial had been covered by cameras which was in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. During the pre-trial hearing, the press was allowed to take pictures in the courtroom. At least twelve people were on the scene operating cameras and there were video tapes of the hearing which the Supreme Court said "clearly illustrated that the picture presented was not one of judicial serenity and calm to which Estes was entitled." Additionally, it was "conceded that the activities of the television crews and news photographers led to considerable disruption of the hearings...pretrial publicity can create a major problem for the defendant in a criminal case. Indeed, it may be more harmful than publicity during the trial for it may well set the community opinion as to guilt or innocence." Of course, since then, cameras have been used many times in court rooms, but the basis for denying access to broadcast journalists in courtrooms have remained unchanged since 1965.

With this in mind, it is extremely important that courts recognize the first amendment right to televise court proceedings and I support the easing of the cameras rule. As noted in Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia: the right to attend criminal trials was “implicit in the guarantees of the First Amendment; without the freedom to attend such trials, which people have exercised for centuries, important aspects of freedom of speech and of the press would be eviscerated.”

Even so, I think it is important for all parties involved that new regulations for the appropriate use of cameras in courtrooms to be drafted. Doing so will ensure a better chance of maintaining an important balance between the first amendment rights of the press and the fourteenth amendment rights of those on trial.


Milad Khansari said...

I suspect that this proposed rule change will not pass, as it gives judges too much discretion and leaves too much to judges' subjective interpretation. For example, traditionally, media coverage of a minor is prohibited in judicial proceedings, unless the minor is being tried for a criminal offense. Under the proposed rule change, would a judge have the discretion to permit the transmission of court proceedings involving a minor? Further, even though the proposed rule would allow a judge to place restrictions on the use and additional dissemination of a broadcast, once a proceeding is broadcast via the internet, for example, unless it is broadcast on a restricted website of some sort, it may not be that easy to control and limit its future dissemination. Perhaps if the proposed rule change is re-written more specifically, that is, if the proposed rule specifies the limitations and restrictions to be used by judges who permit cameras in their courtroom, the rule would then stand a chance.

Autumn McCray said...

I think the US District Court should adopt the proposed rule change.

As the public notice for the proposed rule change states, “the rule modification is proposed in response to a recent decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, In Re Sony BMG Music Entertainment, 564 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 2009), and in accordance with the procedures emphasized in a recent decision of the Supreme Court.” Hollingsworth v. Perry,130 S.Ct. 705 (2010).

In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Supreme Court granted a stay of an order issued by a United State District Court for the broadcast of a lawsuit in California challenging Proposition 8. The court had planned to stream the trial live and post it on YouTube.

In granting the stay, the Supreme Court ruled that the amendment to the local rule that had forbidden broadcasting of trials outside of the courthouse failed to follow procedures required by federal law and that applicants would “suffer irreparable harm” from such a live broadcast. Specifically, the Court ruled that (1) 5 business days was insufficient time for the public comment period and (2) broadcasting the trial could have a chilling effect on witness testimony, and that some witnesses would not testify if the trial was broadcast.

The proposed amendment to Local Rule 83.3 addresses both of the issues outlined by the Court in Hollingsworth v. Perry. As noted here, the rule would not only prohibit showing jurors, but would give witnesses and litigants the option of not being photographed. And as noted in the public notice, the public comment period was 60 days (as opposed to 5 days).

In terms of constitutionality, Supreme Court precedent supports it, as the Court ruled in Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia that the First Amendment provides a right of access to court proceedings. 448. U.S. 555 (1980). While the Court does not specifically address webcasting, as Justice Breyer argued in his dissent in Hollingsworth v. Perry, questions of this nature are typically left to Circuit Judicial Councils.

research paper said...

I fully agree with Stephanie Payne.