Monday, December 21, 2009
Ninth Circuit Approves Experimental Use of Cameras in District Courts
By STEVEN M. ELLIS, Staff Writer
Chief Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski has announced that the court’s governing body has approved the limited use of cameras in federal district courts within the circuit on an experimental basis.
Kozinski said Thursday that the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit, the governing body for federal courts in the western states, voted unanimously to allow the 15 district courts within the circuit to experiment with the dissemination of video recordings, but only in civil non-jury matters.
The action amended a 1996 Ninth Circuit policy that had prohibited the taking of photographs, as well as radio and television coverage, of court proceedings in the district courts. It also responds to a resolution supporting the use of cameras, which was passed by judges and lawyers attending the 2007 Ninth Circuit Judicial Conference.
“We hope that being able to see and hear what transpires in the courtroom will lead to a better public understanding of our judicial processes and enhanced confidence in the rule of law,” Kozinski said. “The experiment is designed to help us find the right balance between the public’s right to access to the courts and the parties’ right to a fair and dignified proceeding.”
Cases to be considered for the pilot program will be selected by the chief judge of the district court in consultation with the chief circuit judge, and participating courts will be asked to evaluate their experiences and report to the council.
The Ninth Circuit takes in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, the U.S. Territory of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Each is served by one district court, except California, which has four, and Washington, which has two.
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has previously permitted television and radio broadcasting of oral arguments with approval of the panel hearing the case. Since 1991, the court has permitted video and audio recordings of oral arguments in approximately 200 cases. All of its oral arguments are available on its website.
The State of California currently allows electronic media coverage of proceedings in state courtrooms, but leaves to judges’ discretion whether to permit the use of cameras and other electronic equipment, and requires judges to consider 18 factors in deciding such requests.
These include the importance of maintaining public access to the courtroom, preserving the privacy rights of the participants in the proceedings and the effect of camera coverage on counsel’s ability to select an unbiased jury.
California prohibited photographing, recording and broadcasting in the courtroom during sessions or recesses in 1965, but in 1984 allowed media coverage of criminal and civil courtroom proceedings at the trial and appellate levels under rule 980 of the California Rules of Court.
Amended in 1997 and renumbered rule 1.150 in 2006, it gives judges discretion over use of cameras in all areas, including all pretrial hearings in criminal cases, and prohibits camera coverage of jury selection, jurors and spectators in the courtroom. It continues to ban cameras at proceedings held in chambers or closed to the public; conferences between an attorney and a client, witness or aide, or between attorneys; and conferences between counsel and the judge at the bench.
The rule was also amended in 2006 to include new digital technologies, such as camera cell phones, in the restrictions on the use of photographing, recording and broadcasting in state courtrooms, and makes those technologies subject to a judicial order permitting their use.
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company