An amendment to Kansas court rules now lets journalists use laptops and cell phones to report from the courtroom.
Reporters still need permission from the presiding judge, but the recent amendment to Rule 1001 clarifies that such devices may be used by journalists. Before the amendment was added, there was no mention of laptops or smartphones in the rule, and judges assumed such devices were not permitted, according to court spokesman Ron Keefover.
“We’ve had cameras in the courtroom on a permanent basis since 1988, but laptops and smartphones weren’t around then,” he said. “With this update, people are allowed to tweet from the courtroom and use other electronic devices.”
There were a few judges who allowed the use of electronics, but it wasn't widespread, according to Kansas Press Association director Doug Anstaett.
"These rules acknowledge that there are a number of new electronic tools available for reporters," Anstaett said. "They're trying to keep decorum in the courtroom and to have a consistent set of rules that can be followed throughout the state."
The rule, which was first passed in 1988, allows spectators to possess — but not use — cell phones, laptops, cameras and audio recorders in the courtroom. Before the rule was amended, journalists could use cameras if a judge allowed it, but the use of laptops and smartphones to live stream and tweet court proceedings was often prohibited.
According to the amendment, journalists must request permission from the presiding judge to use electronic devices in the courtroom, and, if the request is granted, they must abide by a set of rules intended to keep trials fair. For example, the rule prohibits taking pictures of certain participants, including jurors, juveniles and undercover agents.
Anstaett said he hopes that more judges will allow journalists to use electronics in their courtrooms under the amendment.
"Any time you create guidelines that the court approves, it's telling judges not to be afraid of these things," Anstaett said. "Under certain controlled conditions, tweeting from the courtroom and live blogging and other things are becoming more and more common, and this set of guidelines says hey, these things are happening, let's go ahead and accommodate them."
Kansas Chief Justice Lawton R. Nuss wrote in the order that electronic devices are redefining the news media, and policies addressing the use of electronics in courtrooms must “include enough flexibility to take into consideration that electronic devices have become a necessary tool for court observers, journalists, and participants.”
State courts across the nation are slowly accommodating electronic devices in courtrooms, and a number of state supreme courts, such as those in Florida, Massachusetts and Kentucky, provide public webcasts of hearings online. Some courts are beginning to specifically address the usage of new technology during judicial proceedings, and Anstaett said he would like Kansas to lead the way.
“I think we’re one of the first few states to address digital recording devices, along with cameras, in the courtrooms,” Keefover said. “I’m very pleased with the amendment. This court has a transparency attitude that began when we first permitted cameras in 1981. This update is just an extension of that philosophy.”
Related Reporters Committee resources:
· Kansas – Open Courts Compendium: XI. Cameras and other technology in the courtroom