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Cameras capture full presidential election court hearings

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         FLORIDA         Broadcasting         Nov 21, 2000    

Cameras capture full presidential election court hearings

  • State rules allowing cameras in court gave the public a rounded view of the hearings before the Florida high court and three circuit courts, as contrasted to the federal district judge who locked the media out of his courtroom.

Live coverage on Nov. 20 gave the public access to the Florida Supreme Court’s hearing on how, and if, presidential ballot recounting should proceed as the seven Florida Supreme Court justices questioned attorneys for the campaigns of Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush as well as the Florida Secretary of State. The justices and the attorneys seemingly paid little attention to the presence of cameras. Proceedings were also uplinked to several satellite coordinates.

Pool and court cameras operated inside the courtroom. The court also provided for a pool camera outside the court building and arranged for a distribution amplifier on the courthouse steps after the hearing for comments by attorneys and the parties. Pool reporters earned seats at the hearing by lottery.

Circuit courts in Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami also gave cameras a right-of-way in the courtroom.

Cases before the state courts contrasted sharply to the balloting case brought in federal district court in Miami, where Judge Donald Middlebrooks hastily refused a pool camera from the courtroom. The Associated Press reported that the judge told a lawyer for the networks, “I hate to put you in a position of losing a hearing when you’re not opposed,” but he noted that cameras are barred under a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta (11th Cir.). AP reported that Middlebrooks is bound to exclude cameras as a result of a case he brought seeking access, and lost on appeal, while a practicing attorney.

Rick Hussey, press officer for the state circuit court in West Palm Beach, said the court had been ready with a press plan that kicks into effect in high-profile cases and that pool cameras had been operating smoothly in the courtroom with one pool movie camera and one pool still camera. The court heard a balloting case Nov. 20 and was scheduled to hear another Nov. 22.

The court learned to have a high-profile media plan in place after the trial of William Kennedy Smith in 1991, Hussey said in an interview. He said more than 100 reporters and 40 lawyers waited to enter the courtroom when the election case opened. The courtroom seats 74, but video and audio rooms downstairs accommodated the overflow, he said.

Broward County Circuit Court video specialist Pat Welsh said the pool video and still cameras had worked smoothly in the election hearings on Nov. 17 and in activity outside the courtroom in Fort Lauderdale where broadcasters and others received footage from the same rotating pool feed.

In Dade County, Carla Hernandez said that a Nov. 21 hearing on a Republican Party petition to stop the recount and set procedures went on with no problems. Pool video and still cameras were present in the courtroom and a feed was set up the night before to a media room. Hernandez, who is the circuit court’s assistant government liaison, said that Dade County’s plan for cameras in the court is actually still being drawn up but that the court has had enough experience with news media cameras to know how to prepare for camera coverage.


© 2000 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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