Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Massachusetts adding cameras to courtrooms

The Boston Globe reports today that the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court announced proposed new rules about cameras in courtrooms at all levels of the judicial system. The rules are not final yet, and comments are encouraged; the article tells interested readers where to send comments. The rule was crafted by the Supreme Court's Judicial Media Committee with input from journalists over the course of this year.

The rules are designed to increase citizen access to courts and trials, including blogger access. There is already a rule allowing 2 cameras in every court: one for television and one for newspapers. The new rule would allow 3 cameras, designating the new camera for Web access. The Court is clearly paying attention to the new role that citizen journalists have been playing in coverage of local news. As newspapers find it difficult to fund investigative reporters, these volunteer bloggers have often filled an important gap in coverage. While I certainly hope that professional journalists will continue to be available to cover important state trials, it's nice to think that a case of local interest could be covered by a blogger even when the papers decide it's not "big enough."

In a summary released yesterday, the court said “the news media would be defined as those who are regularly engaged in the reporting and publishing of news or information about matters of public interest.’’

The rules would allow journalists to use laptop computers and other electronic devices while court is in session, provided it is not disruptive.

Even with the new rules, judges still have the authority to ban cameras in certain circumstances. Also, journalists would still be barred from recording jurors at all times during a trial, whether it is a civil or criminal matter.
(from the Globe article by John R. Ellement, a staffer from the Globe who has shared in the Globe's 2003 Pulitzer prize. I was curious because of the rule, who was reporting.) This is the Court that pioneered webcasts (and archives of them) of oral arguments in their court. The Court really is seeking public feedback before making the rule final. Comments can be sent:

Christine P. Burak,
Secretary, Supreme Judicial Court Rules Committee,
Supreme Judicial Court,
John Adams Courthouse,
One Pemberton Square,
Boston MA 02108 on or before Jan. 28, 2011

The photo of the Court listening to arguments is from the Suffolk Law School website that houses the webcasts and archives.

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