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State bar association endorses cameras in courtrooms

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    NMU         NEW YORK         Broadcasting         Apr 4, 2001    

State bar association endorses cameras in courtrooms

  • A heavily contested consent provision did not win approval by the bar association and the vote sends a message to legislature that attorneys oppose a statutory prohibition on cameras.

The New York State Bar Association narrowly passed an endorsement March 31 to allow still and video cameras back into the state’s courtrooms without the consent of the parties. The association’s previous position required all parties to consent before cameras were allowed to cover a case.

The issue of obtaining consent was one of several elements about which bar association delegates debated prior to approving the measure. Many delegates objected to cameras, arguing that they diminished the “public trust and confidence in the legal system,” that the cameras are not appropriate in some cases, and that crime victims and witnesses have privacy rights that would otherwise be invaded by the presence of cameras. Some delegates concluded cameras would deter witnesses from voluntarily testifying.

A. Vincent Buzard, chairman of a committee whose recommendations were adopted, said to require consent would give full veto power to one party.

“In the five states we looked at which now have a consent requirement, there is virtually no television coverage,” Buzard said in his statements to the member of the bar. “It doesn’t happen.”

Martin Adelman, a dissenting member of Buzard’s committee, argued that without a counsel’s ability to promise no camera coverage, some victims and witnesses may leave the jurisdiction, refuse to participate or even attempt suicide.

There is currently no legislation pending to change the rules regarding cameras in the courtrooms, but Gov. George Pataki and the state’s chief judge, Judith Kaye, have called for a cameras-in-the court law to standardize the circumstances under which cameras would be permitted and omitted.

Cameras and recording equipment have been banned from New York’s courtrooms since 1952, except for an interval between 1987 and 1997. This experimental period, which began as a two-year trial, put a temporary hold on a statue banning trial coverage when witnesses appear or may appear under subpoena. During the 10-year experiment, judges could grant camera access to the courtroom with the consent of all the parties.

In the years since, some judges have continued to allow camera coverage of trials after finding that the law banning cameras is unconstitutional. The most prominent of these came in February 2000 when Justice Joseph Terisi allowed Court TV to cover the Amadou Diallo case, in which four New York City police officers were charged with killing an unarmed man.

More recently, a Sullivan County judge agreed to allow still and video cameras into a capital murder case.


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© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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