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Western federal courts can now videotape some trials

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The body that oversees 15 western federal trial courts announced a pilot program yesterday that will allow the videotaping of…

The body that oversees 15 western federal trial courts announced a pilot program yesterday that will allow the videotaping of some civil trials.

The Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit – the governing body for all federal courts in Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands – unanimously voted to allow the trial courts in those states to experiment with taping in civil cases tried without a jury.

Ninth Circuit Chief Judge Alex Kozinski explained the Council hoped “that being able to see and hear what transpires in the courtroom will lead to a better public understanding of our judicial processes and enhanced confidence in the rule of law.”

The San Francisco Chronicle and The Recorder report that one of the first lawsuits that may be videotaped under the new program is the challenge to Proposition 8, California’s same-sex marriage ban. Chief Judge Vaughn Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California suggested weeks ago that he might allow cameras, though defenders of the marriage ban objected to broadcasting the case.

The Ninth Circuit already allows some of its own proceedings to be videotaped, as do the U.S. Court of Appeals in New York (2nd Cir.) and two federal trial courts in New York. Other federal courts generally prohibit cameras in the courtroom, though every state allows videotaping in at least some cases.