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Supreme Court upholds its camera access rules

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Supreme Court upholds its camera access rules

  • Despite a request by the New Jersey State Bar Association to add restrictions to camera access in courts, New Jersey courtroom guidelines remain unchanged.

Oct. 9, 2003 — Against the wishes of the New Jersey State Bar Association, the New Jersey Supreme Court decided yesterday to continue to allow cameras in state and municipal courtrooms, at the sole discretion of the presiding judge.

In a letter to the Administrative Office of the Courts, NJSBA President Karol Corbin Walker proposed a policy change that would require all parties in a case to consent to cameras access. The rights of all parties “should not be threatened by the ordeal, and potential embarrassment, that may result from unwanted media attention regardless of the ‘importance’ of the proceeding,” she wrote.

Barbara Straczynski, NJSBA communications and marketing manager, said the Bar Association sent the letter in response to the court’s request for comments on its updated cameras-in-courtrooms guidelines.

Walker’s letter prompted 17 media attorneys to write to the Supreme Court, asking it to reject the NJSBA’s request. In its letter, the attorneys called the consent proposal “wholly misguided” and an “unconstitutional assault on speech and press rights embodied in the federal First Amendment.”

The media lawyers also cited numerous cases in which courts upheld camera access, and said there was no evidence that cameras affected the judicial process.

In New Jersey, judges can close their courtrooms to cameras — and the public — on a case-by-case basis, and often do for juvenile and sexual assault proceedings.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, John C. Connell, one of the 17 media attorneys, said he anticipated the court would make the right decision.

“In effect, this preserves the First Amendment,” Connell said.


© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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