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Judges grant camera access to California recall appeal

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Judges grant camera access to California recall appeal

  • Due to the degree of public interest, the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) allowed cameras to tape the Sept. 22 California recall hearing.

Sep. 29, 2003 — The full federal appeals court in San Francisco (9th Cir.) recently granted photojournalists access to the California recall election hearing, a rare opportunity for public scrutiny of the federal courts through broadcasting.

Although the first federal court case was aired in 1991, when the federal Judicial Conference authorized an experiment allowing camera coverage in eight federal courts, many judges remain reluctant to open their courtrooms to cameras. In 1996, the Judicial Conference voted to allow cameras in federal appellate courts — but not trial courts — at the discretion of the bench in each circuit. Since then, only the appellate courts in New York City (2nd Cir.) and San Francisco have instituted pilot programs to authorize camera access.

“Most of the arguments that I’ve heard have been about some reluctance of the idea that attorneys play to the cameras,” said Jim Ewert, attorney for the California Newspaper Publishers Association. “I know that a lot of judges are extremely fearful of being portrayed as Judge Ito in the O.J. [Simpson] case.”

Ewert added that some judges also feel camera access affects testimony or somehow taints the judicial process. Witnesses do not appear before appellate courts.

David Madden, manager of the public information office for the Ninth Circuit, said the court allowed the media to record and photograph the Sept. 22 hearing because there was “tremendous interest” in the recall election. On Oct. 7, voters will decide whether or not to recall California Gov. Gray Davis, as well as who among the 135 candidates will replace him if he is recalled.

The appellate court unanimously affirmed a U.S. district court decision to not delay the election because of outdated voting machines in various counties throughout the state. The hearing was broadcast live on C-SPAN, while other networks pooled from the feed for later broadcasts. The Associated Press was allowed to photograph the proceedings using a still camera.

In March, Sens. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) and Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) introduced the Sunshine in the Court Act, which would allow federal trial and appellate judges to permit cameras in their courtrooms.

(Southwest Voter Registration Education Project v. Shelley) AS

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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