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Supreme Court to consider expanded camera access

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Supreme Court to consider expanded camera access

  • A court rules advisory committee will hold a public hearing in December on whether to expand access for cameras and media broadcasters in New Hampshire courts.

Nov. 3, 2003 — Three proposed rules will expand and further define camera access to the New Hampshire Supreme Court, Superior Court and Probate Court.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Rules, the court body that receives and considers suggestions for changes to rules governing state courts, will hold a public hearing Dec. 17 to discuss the changes.

Camera access is currently allowed in the Supreme Court, at the discretion of the court. The proposed change requires that requests for access be made five days in advance. At the Probate Court level, proceedings can currently be recorded at the request of an involved party. The proposed changes would allow outside cameras to record proceedings, as long as a request is filed five days in advance. The most significant proposal — similar to the one affecting the Probate Court — has been made for the Superior Court level, where camera access has long been restricted.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Rules is made up of 13 rotating members — including judges, attorneys and lay persons — who are appointed by various bodies in each of the three branches of government in New Hampshire. The final proposal will be submitted to the New Hampshire Supreme Court after the public hearing, and rules will be put into effect early next year, said a Supreme Court spokesperson.

In 2002, WMUR Channel 9, The Boston Globe and the New Hampshire Association for Broadcasters petitioned to overturn a court order by Superior Court Judge Peter W. Smith that prevented camera access to the proceedings of The State of New Hampshire v. Robert Tulloch. The petition was granted by Supreme Court Justice Joseph P. Nadeau, who then asked for a review of the rules governing camera access in state courts.

Smith said he denied camera access to the Tulloch case because media access might infringe upon the defendant’s right to a fair trial, alter participants’ conduct in a nationally televised proceeding and cause the trial to become a “media circus.” Furthermore, Smith ruled, the Grafton County court’s facilities, where the case was to be tried, were inadequate to accommodate electronic media. Justice Nadeau found those assertions to be baseless.

“We’ve worked very hard and cooperatively to make access happen when people ask for it,” said Laura Kiernan, public information officer for the state Supreme Court. “[Our system is] not perfect. It’s hard to figure out the best way to do it.”

Kiernan said the proposed rule changes are a step in the right direction to accommodate both the court and the media, but there is a lot of work still to be done.

“Reporters like uniformity in the rules, and that is very hard to accomplish in the court system,” Kiernan said. “Different judges feel different on different subjects.”


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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