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Cameras gain support in two courts that have long opposed them

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    NMU         SOUTH DAKOTA/MISSISSIPPI         Broadcasting         Jun 6, 2001    

Cameras gain support in two courts that have long opposed them

  • The South Dakota Supreme Court is weighing a proposal to broadcast its hearings, and the Mississippi high court opened its doors to cameras this spring.

Two holdout states that have resisted allowing cameras in the courtroom are moving toward relaxing restrictions on camera coverage.

The South Dakota Supreme Court will consider a proposal later this month that would allow television coverage of the state’s highest court. And Mississippi recently began webcasts of arguments in its highest court.

South Dakota is the last state in the country that has no guidelines or provisions for any camera coverage in courtrooms. The proposal would allow two video cameras and two still cameras in courtrooms. It also would provide for the appointment of an official to coordinate press pool coverage and act as a liaison between the press and the court.

The plan is the product of a commission appointed earlier this year by South Dakota Chief Justice Robert Miller that studied cameras in the courtroom.

The proposal would apply only to the supreme court and would not affect the state’s circuit courts. The court will consider the idea at June 19 hearing in Sioux Falls.

In Mississippi, the supreme court began broadcasting its hearings on April 2. The state spent about $55,000 to install five voice-activated video cameras in the court’s chambers. Although outside cameras remain prohibited in the court, television and radio crews are allowed to plug into the system through a hook-up in a separate room in the building. Five news outlets can plug in and record the hearings at once.

In May, the Web site offering the broadcast (www.mssc.state.ms.us) received more than 400 hits.

Mississippi Chief Justice Edwin Pittman said he became convinced it was time to open up the court proceedings after watching hearings in the Bush v. Gore case in December before the Florida Supreme Court.

“It’s just the idea that the people of Mississippi have a chance to look in on their court,” Pittman said. “It makes everyone involved more accountable.”

Although similar plans are underway to allow cameras into state appellate courts, there are no immediate plans to allow cameras in Mississippi trial courts. But Pittman said he has informally asked state trial judges to review their procedures with the media and to examine the webcasts offered by the Supreme Court.

CM

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