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Minn. judges allow cameras in court for Senate battle

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  1. Newsgathering
Advocates of allowing cameras in Minnesota courtrooms won a notable battle this week, when a three-judge panel presiding over the disputed U.S. Senate…

Advocates of allowing cameras in Minnesota courtrooms won a notable battle this week, when a three-judge panel presiding over the disputed U.S. Senate election there approved electronic media coverage of the case proceedings.

A television camera, a still photographer and an audio recorder were to be allowed into the state Supreme Court chambers on Wednesday for pre-trial arguments between attorneys for Democrat Al Franken and Republican Norm Coleman, The Associated Press reported.  Their footage was to be pooled for other news organizations, and that setup was to continue as the case moves along.

Minnesota-based media attorney Mark Anfinson says the Franken-Coleman legal battle happened to provide advocates the "perfect opportunity" to showcase the public benefits of electronic coverage inside the courtroom, in a state that has been cool to the idea. Anfinson led a group of Minnesota news organizations in filing a petition about a year ago with the state Supreme Court in favor of opening state courtrooms to filming.

The high court is still weighing the decision, said Anfinson, who also represents the Minnesota Newspaper Association.

"I was optimistic before," he said. "Now along comes this amazing opportunity through the Franken-Coleman trial."

For the past two decades, according to Anfinson, state law has required that all parties and judges involved consent to allowing camera access to a given proceeding — something all parties "virtually never do."

"Plaintiffs and defendants are competitors, so if one agrees, it prompts the adversary to be disagreeable," Anfinson explained.

Although the District of Columbia is the only jurisdiction that categorically bans cameras in the courtroom at both the trial and appellate levels, Minnesota ranks in the bottom tier of states that allow cameras, according to the Radio-Television News Directors Association.