Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

Judicial Conference Nixes Cameras in Courtrooms

Academic journal article Defense Counsel Journal

Judicial Conference Nixes Cameras in Courtrooms

Article excerpt

A bill in the U.S. Senate to allow cameras in federal courtrooms under certain conditions could "seriously jeopardize" the rights of citizens to a fair trial, the U.S. Judicial Conference has stated to a Senate subcommittee. Chief Judge Edward E. Becker of the Third Circuit testified before the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts on September 6 on behalf of the conference.

The bill, S. 721, sponsored by Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, would authorize the presiding judge of a district court or a court of appeals to permit the photographing, electronic recording, broadcasting or televising of court proceedings, and it authorizes the Judicial Conference to promulgate advisory guidelines. It directs that district courts inform witnesses other than a party of their right to have their faces and voices disguised or otherwise obscured.

Following are excerpts from the testimony of Judge Becker, a member of the Executive Committee of the Judicial Conference, outlining the conference's position:

Statement of Chief Judge Becker

The Judicial Conference strongly opposes S. 721, a bill that would "allow media coverage of court proceedings."

The federal judiciary has examined the issue of whether cameras should be permuted in the federal courts for more than six decades, both through case law and Judicial Conference consideration. The Judicial Conference in its role as the policymaking body for the federal judiciary has consistently expressed the view that camera coverage can do irreparable harm to a citizen's right to a fair and impartial trial. We believe that the intimidating effect of cameras on litigants, witnesses and jurors has a profoundly negative impact on the trial process. Moreover, in civil cases cameras can intimidate civil defendants who, regardless of the merits of their case, might prefer to settle rather than risk damaging accusations in a televised trial. Cameras can also create security concerns in the federal courts. Finally, cameras can create privacy concerns for countless numbers of persons, many of whom are not even parties to the case, but about whom very personal information may be revealed at trial....

The federal courts have shown strong leadership in the continuing effort to modernize the litigation process. This has been particularly true of the federal judiciary's willingness to embrace new technologies, such as electronic case filing and access, videoconferencing, and electronic evidence presentation systems. The federal courts have also established community outreach programs in which several thousand students and teachers nationwide have come to federal courthouses to learn about court proceedings. Our opposition to this legislation, therefore, is not, as some may suggest, borne of a desire to stem technology or access to the courts. We oppose the broadcasting of federal court proceedings because it is contrary to the interests of justice, which it is our most solemn duty to uphold....

The current policy, as published in the Guide to Judiciary Policies and Procedures, states:

A judge may authorize broadcasting, televising, recording, or taking photographs in the courtroom and in adjacent areas during investigative, naturalization, or other ceremonial proceedings. A judge may authorize such activities in the courtroom or adjacent areas during other proceedings, or recesses between such proceedings, only: (a) for the presentation of evidence; (b) for the perpetuation of the record of the proceedings; (c) for security purposes; (d) for other purposes of judicial administration; or (e) in accordance with pilot programs approved by the Judicial Conference of the United States.

Presently, only two of the 13 appellate courts, the Second and Ninth Circuits, have decided to permit camera coverage in appellate proceedings. This decision was made by the judges of each court. As for cameras in district courts, most circuit councils have either adopted resolutions prohibiting cameras in the district courts or acknowledged that the district courts in that circuit already have such a prohibition. …

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