WASHINGTON, D.C.–The U.S. Judicial Conference voted in mid- March to reopen the once-dead issue of camera coverage in federal civil trials or appellate proceedings.
The 27-judge panel agreed in a 17-to-9 vote to authorize the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management to begin a new study on cameras in the courtroom.
Judge Gilbert Merritt, chief judge of the United States Court of Appeals in Nashville (6th cir.), said the committee is open to press suggestions.
Last September the conference voted by a 3-to-1 margin not to make permanent a 3 1/2-year experiment with cameras in six federal trial courts and two appellate courts. The decision came despite a positive recommendation from the court administration committee, which had jurisdiction over the pilot program.
In a press release, the conference said it sought to clarify its vote last fall. The conference decided that the Court Administration and Case Management Committee may propose pilot programs or conduct other studies on cameras in the courtroom, but should not reintroduce the experiment that was rejected by the conference in September 1994.
The Federal Judicial Center, the research arm of the judiciary, issued a report on the experiment last year stating the cameras had generated few problems, were perceived favorably by most judges and had few effects on jurors or witnesses.
After the September vote, nine of the 13 chief appellate judges signed a letter supporting camera access in appellate courts and urging the conference to examine the issue again.
At a late December meeting, however, the Committee on Court Administration refused to take action on a second proposal to extend the civil cameras experiment. The experiment ended Dec. 31.
Camera coverage of federal criminal trials will continue to be prohibited.
The conference, composed of the chief judges of the 13 Circuit Courts, representative judges from 12 Federal District Courts, the Chief Judge of the Court of International Trade and the Chief Justice of the United States, creates rules of procedure and conduct for federal courts.
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