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U.S. courts in West to allow video coverage of civil cases

The experiment in California and other states in the 9th Circuit is designed to improve understanding of how the judicial process works.

December 18, 2009|By Carol J. Williams

Federal courts in California and eight other Western states will allow video camera coverage of civil proceedings in an experiment aimed at increasing public understanding of the work of the courts, the chief judge of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Thursday.

The decision by the court's judicial council, headed by Chief Judge Alex Kozinski, is in response to recommendations made to the court two years ago and ends a 1996 ban on the taking of photographs or transmitting of radio or video broadcasts.

"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."

The first proceedings to be taped or photographed will be chosen by the chief judge of each of the 15 districts in the 9th Circuit region in consultation with Kozinski, the court announcement said, noting that only non-jury civil cases would be subject to the new rules.

Peter Scheer of the California 1st Amendment Foundation welcomed the 9th Circuit's decision to depart from federal Judicial Conference policy virtually banning cameras from district courtrooms.

"The more people get to see what goes on there, in general, the more legitimacy that the judicial process will have," Scheer said. "Also, it tends to affect the behavior of the whole cast -- judges, lawyers, the bailiff and other personnel. It tends to make them do a better job."

The change reflects a gradual evolution toward incorporating visual and audio media into the courtroom. Appellate judges unable to travel to hear arguments have been participating by video-conferencing for the last few years, and the court has permitted television and radio broadcasting of oral arguments in about 200 cases since 1991 in which the media have sought access and the panel of judges hearing the case has agreed.

Recordings of the oral arguments are also available on the 9th Circuit’s website.

carol.williams@latimes.com

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