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New Federal Cameras in Court Pilot Study Commences

July 27th, 2011 by Mickey Osterreicher

On July 18, 2011 the Judicial Conference of the United States began a three-year pilot project to evaluate the effect of cameras in federal district court courtrooms. Fourteen (14) federal trial courts are taking part in the federal Judiciary’s digital video pilot. The participating courts are:

  • Middle District of Alabama
  • Northern District of California
  • Southern District of Florida
  • District of Guam
  • Northern District of Illinois
  • Southern District of Iowa
  • District of Kansas
  • District of Massachusetts
  • Eastern District of Missouri
  • District of Nebraska
  • Northern District of Ohio
  • Southern District of Ohio
  • Western District of Tennessee
  • Western District of Washington

Courts participating in the experiment must follow Guidelines.pdf adopted by the Court Administration and Case Management Committee (CACM). Only civil cases in which all parties have consented to being recorded will be allowed to participate in the pilot with the approval of the presiding judge. Additionally, the parties will be required to consent to the recording of each proceeding in the case. Coverage of the prospective jury during voir dire is prohibited, as is coverage of jurors or alternate jurors.

The guidelines impose additional restrictions in that “pilot recordings will not be simulcast, but will be made available as soon as possible on www.uscourts.gov and on local participating court websites at the court’s discretion.” Only courts participating in the program may record court proceedings for the purpose of public release; courts not selected for participation in the program may not record and release recordings of their proceedings.

It is very important to note that only court personnel or its agents will be permitted to record the proceedings, with the presiding judge having the ability to instantly stop a recording if necessary. Recordings by any other entities or persons – including the media and its representatives – are prohibited. The guidelines also address camera placement and technical setup. Funding for equipment or technical support will be limited, and courts have been discouraged “from purchasing new equipment.”

Since 1996 the Conference has permitted camera coverage of oral arguments in federal courts of appeals at the court’s discretion. Currently both the Second and the Ninth Circuit allow such coverage. There is, however, an absolute ban on electronic media coverage of criminal proceedings in federal courts pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure (FRCP) 53.

This is the second three-year experiment with cameras in the courtroom authorized by the Judicial Conference. The first was conducted between July 1, 1991 and June 30, 1993 with electronic media coverage of civil proceeding in six district courts and two courts of appeals. At the conclusion of the experiment in 1994, despite a report and recommendation stating that “the experimental media coverage did not create sufficient disruption to civil proceedings to warrant the continuation of the prohibition against such coverage” the Conference declined to continue camera coverage and the initial pilot program ended on December 31, 1994.

One of the first federal civil cases covered as part of the new pilot being heard in the Western District of Tennessee in Memphis, involves a local TV reporter who is suing for defamation because of pornographic images and derogatory comments allegedly posted on TheDirty.com website which she claims “could harm her career” (see: complaint).” Although the material was taken down, the plaintiff in Gauck v. Karamian sought a preliminary injunction at a July 21, 2011 hearing seeking to bar any re-posting of the same material.

Also see: http://www.commercialappeal.com.

For a more comprehensive study of cameras in federal court please be sure to look for “Cameras in the Courts: The Long Road to the New Federal Experiment” being published in early August in the Summer 2011 Edition of the Reynolds Courts & Media Law Journal. After print publication it can be found at http://www.courtsandmedia.org/journal.

Additional information regarding the new pilot project may be found at: http://www.uscourts.gov/news/

Posted in Access, Cameras in the Courtroom, Federal Court, First Amendment, multimedia, photographers, Photographers' Rights, photojournalism | No Comments »



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