Lights! Camera! Call your first witness! Ninth Circuit opens up district courts to cameras.

Clapper Board

The Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit issued a press release yesterday (PDF) announcing a pilot program allowing use of cameras in district court courtrooms. The release included this comment from Chief Judge Alex Kozinski:

“We hope 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 experiment is designed to help us find the right balance between the public’s right to access to the courts and the parties’ right to a fair and dignified proceeding,” Judge Kozinski said.

I’ve heard heavy criticism of the use of cameras in court.  Many criticized the gavel-to-gavel coverage on the O.J. Simpson case because they believed it caused the attorneys (and even the judge) to grandstand, and some felt that it contributed to Judge Ito “losing control” of his courtroom. Assuming the validity of those criticisms, I don’t think one need worry that those problems will be replicated in the federal district courts. Federal judges are hardly known for allowing attorneys to get away with misconduct.

And the question everyone is asking in the wake of this announcement: will the Proposition 8 trial be televised? Here’s the only clue given by the press release:

Cases to be considered for the pilot program will be selected by the chief judge of the district court in consultation with the chief circuit judge. The participating district courts will be asked to evaluate their experiences and report to the Council.

I wonder what “consultation” means in this instance. At one extreme the chief circuit judge would have veto power. At the other, the chief circuit judge would merely advise and leave the final decision to the chief district judge. If I can find more detail about this, I’ll post it.