Currently underway in Quincy District Court is a pilot project
involving cameras in the courtroom. Live streaming video of certain
court sessions are available to anyone with access to the Internet.
Those viewing the proceedings are also able to blog and comment
about what is taking place.
To see this in operation, visit www.OpenCourt.us and click on
the "Live Stream" window. Once at the site, I encourage you to
watch the live session, consider reading the background information
on the project and review the posted comments.
Several months ago, the Supreme Judicial Court sought comments
to Rule 1.19 on access to court sessions. In
response, I appointed a task force, which is chaired by Lee
Gartenberg and Peter Elikann. At our House of Delegates meeting in
March, our House approved a preliminary report from the task force
which can be found at www.massbar.org/mediareport.
I am privileged to be on an SJC advisory committee as a
representative of the bar as this pilot project on cameras in the
courtroom moves forward.
The OpenCourt project was developed by WBUR-FM, Boston's NPR
station. The program is funded through a grant from the Knight News
Challenge, an initiative that provides funding to programs that
promote innovation in how news is covered and delivered.
The concept of cameras in the courtroom raises a multitude of
concerns. When you visit OpenCourt.us, you will see that restraining
orders, if a standalone proceeding, are not being filmed. However,
they currently will be filmed if a companion criminal matter is
being heard. There is a system in place for the judge to turn off
the camera for safety reasons, or the litigant or lawyer can
request that the video feed be terminated for certain sessions
given safety concerns.
Rule 1.19 does provide that certain proceedings should not be
recorded, including motions to suppress or to dismiss or of
probable cause or voir dire hearings. Further, the recording or
close-up photographing or televising of bench conferences,
conferences between counsel or conferences between counsel and
client are not permitted.
However, these are the only proceedings explicitly stated under
the rule to be held off-camera. Otherwise, a judge can only limit
or temporarily suspend coverage if it appears that such coverage
will create a substantial likelihood of harm to any person or other
serious and harmful consequences. A party or person wishing to
prevent the coverage must bring forward a motion to the court, and
only after the hearing can the judge prevent coverage.
Under law, our courts are for the most part open to the public.
However, these laws were set in a time when modern technological
advances could not have been comprehended or imagined.
There are three interests to balance: the interest of the public
to have an open and transparent courtroom; the interests of the
press; and the interests of those who appear in the court,
including litigants, witnesses and jurors, to name a few. Often
during these hearings, sensitive personal information is shared.
Perhaps it is the most intimate of information, such as mental
health issues, substance abuse issues and issues regarding the most
vulnerable of clients -- the children.
A person who is being arraigned and being filmed may in fact be
not guilty, yet the filming of a person's arraignment will be on
the Internet, and the presumption of innocent until proven guilty
may be watered down as word spreads far and wide about the person's
As a lawyer who has walked courtroom corridors for almost 30
years, I welcome such technological advancement and appreciate the
necessity of an "open" courtroom; however, my concerns remain and
are wide and varied.
My concerns include jeopardizing client safety and encouraging
judicial profiling and witness intimidation, as well as the
information finding its way to YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and other
web sites and social media platforms. Some unintended results can
occur, such as someone losing their job when his or her employer
watches the allegations against the individual unfold in a
Other concerns surround cases involving victims of domestic
violence and other more intimate and emotional cases that until
now, were considered to take place in the sanctity of the
courtroom. Now such emotionally-charged and deeply personal cases
are offered up to anyone with Internet access.
For any of you who have an opinion on this topic, I would like
to hear the positives and negatives from your perspective. Please
e-mail me your thoughts on the subject to [e-mail camerasinthecourtroom].