No TV Cameras in Federal Courts, Panel Decides

Article excerpt

After a small-scale, three-year experiment, a judicial panel has decided to keep TV cameras out of federal courtrooms.

The vote by the policy-making Judicial Conference of the United States was a severe setback to years of news media efforts to open federal court proceedings to TV, as has been done by 47 states in non-federal courts. The decision was announced Wednesday.

David Sellers, a spokesman for the conference, said the recent spate of sensational court proceedings such as the O.J. Simpson case did not figure in the discussions. Rather, he said, the judges on the panel were concerned about the potential negative impact of TV cameras on jurors or witnesses.

"The bottom line, by about a vote of 2-to-1 (by the 27-member conference), was a concern about jurors, witnesses, potential distractions for jurors and witnesses, whether or not they were more nervous and, in particular, whether or not they feared for any harm."

The vote went counter to a study done for the conference, which found "small or no effects of camera presence on participants in the proceedings, courtroom decorum or the administration of justice."

A Federal Judicial Center study presented to the conference this spring covered two years of a 3 1/2-year experiment in which six U.S. District Courts and two federal appeals courts permitted cameras in court. Cameras recorded 147 civil trials.

The experiment was conducted in U.S. district courts in Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington and in federal appeals courts in New York and San Francisco. The experiment will end Dec. 31.

The report says, "Judges, media representatives, and court staff found the guidelines governing the program to be generally workable. Overall, judges and court staff report that members of the media were very cooperative.

"Overall, attitudes of judges . . . were initially neutral and became more favorable after experience under the pilot program," the report adds. …