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High court approves expanded camera access to courts

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High court approves expanded camera access to courts

  • Still cameras, broadcasting equipment and audio recording devices will be allowed into non-jury proceedings in Delaware’s Superior and Chancery courts on a six-month experimental basis, the state Supreme Court decided last month.

Jan. 12, 2004 — The Supreme Court of Delaware approved a six-month experiment that will allow still cameras and audio- and video-recording equipment into the state’s Superior and Chancery courts.

Media will be allowed to capture live footage of civil, non-jury trials in the state’s three Superior courts and three Chancery courts, which hear commercial affairs cases. TV cameras and audio-recording devices were previously only allowed in arguments in the Supreme Court.

The Radio-Television News Directors Association and Foundation has long rated Delaware’s court system among the worst in the nation in terms of camera access.

The Supreme Court had argued that bulky camera equipment and the potential for “sensationalized” coverage would be distracting in court proceedings. However, in a Dec. 16 opinion letter concerning the court’s experiment, Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey said recent renovations to the state’s courtrooms have eliminated the possibility that media equipment would be an intrusion.

“Importantly, for the first time in Delaware history, these new courtrooms were designed to accommodate electronic cables under the flooring so that there would be no media cables and wires cluttering our courtroom floors,” Veasey wrote, of his court’s Dec. 10 decision.

John H. Taylor, editorial page editor for the Delaware News Journal, said he is happy the media will now receive greater access to the public court system, but that the longstanding arguments of intrusiveness were flawed from the start.

“(Justice Veasey) is worried about clogging the courtroom and causing a distraction, which is a valid concern because there should not be distractions in court,” Taylor said. “But we use cameras that don’t make a noise. Everything is digitized.

“The main cause of courtroom distraction is not cameras, but judges that lose control of their court.”

The Supreme Court continued to deny camera access to jury trials, it said, out of fear such coverage would taint jury pools or a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

Attorney General M. Jane Brady, for one, has long been opposed to the idea of cameras in the courtroom. Lori Sitler, public information officer for the Attorney General’s Office, said Brady is “concerned about how the use of cameras in the courts will affect the victims and the victims’ families.”

Taylor argues that such concerns are without merit.

“How is having your picture taken inside the courtroom different than having it taken outside?” he said. “Your picture is taken the minute you walk out of the courthouse. It’s unavoidable.”

The state’s Bar/Bench Media Committee, on which Taylor serves, first presented the Supreme Court with guidelines for camera coverage of trial courts in 1994.

LH


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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