What Do You Think?
Video Cameras In Court Improve Judicial Procedure
Minnesota has videotaped judges since 2000, while New Jersey has been taping for a decade. In recent years, Oregon experimented with the idea. And some courts in California review videotaped court proceedings, but only if there's a complaint against a judge.
Ready for Your Close-Up, Your Honor?
Tresa Baldas, The National Law Journal
February 6, 2006
If golfers and football players use videotapes to improve their game, why not judges?
That's the philosophy behind a pilot program in Massachusetts in which several judges were recently videotaped so they could see exactly how they act behind the bench.
While cameras have long been in the courtroom documenting trial proceedings, this program is different in that the cameras zoom in on the judges, looking for blunders or improper behavior.
"This doesn't mean that judges are not performing well; it just means that we need to continue to perform well and, when necessary, perform better," said Charles R. Johnson, chief justice of the Boston Municipal Court Department, who is reviewing 30 videotapes of judges to see where potential weak spots are.
"I'm sure that the majority of the tapes will reveal that the judges are doing exactly what they should be doing. But it may very well reveal that there are judges who could improve their courtroom demeanor," said Johnson, stressing that the program is not punitive but a preventative measure to weed out potential misimpressions.
"You can see mistakes and say, 'Oh my God, did I do that?' or 'Did I say that?' But unless you have the opportunity to look back and observe your performance, you might miss your mistakes because a lot of people don't point out our mistakes. They are reluctant to point it out, and to a large extent we operate in isolation," Johnson said.
OTHER TAPING STATES
According to the National Center for State Courts, just two other states have similar programs. Minnesota has videotaped judges since 2000, while New Jersey has been taping for a decade. In recent years, Oregon experimented with the idea. And some courts in California review videotaped court proceedings, but only if there's a complaint against a judge.
Judge Geoffrey Neithercut of Michigan's 7th Judicial Circuit Court in Flint, whose courtroom has been videotaped over the last decade, sees videotapes as a useful tool that can help keep judges and lawyers in line.
While the 7th Circuit initially implemented cameras to save money on court reporters, Neithercut noted that the program has helped judges nix bad habits.
Specifically, he recalled a judge who was famous for using body language to try to influence the jury, but modified his behavior after being caught on tape doing so.
"He would sigh. He would roll his eyes. He would instruct the jury and say, 'Now the law says we presume the defendant to be innocent,' and his eyes would go to the back of his head," Neithercut said. "With the video you could catch him in the act."
Neithercut applauded the Massachusetts program, saying, "I think it's a great idea." As for his own behavior in the courtroom, he said, "I'd like to say I try to do the right work with or without the [video] system."
Attorney Cynthia Gray, director of the Center for Judicial Ethics for the American Judicature Society, said videotapes could be a useful tool for judiciary review committees that have to investigate cases of judicial misconduct. She noted that misconduct cases saw a 29 percent increase in the last year, from 114 in 2004 to 147 cases in 2005.
"I don't know if it would get rid of misconduct or not. But I always think it's good for judges to look at themselves and for commissions to have good evidence to exonerate judges or help prove misconduct," Gray said.
In New Jersey, court officials note that videotapes help give judges the kind of feedback that lawyers or jurors are afraid to give.
"When we started doing evaluations with questionnaires, no one wanted to tell the judge what they honestly thought, and the videotapes are pretty good at giving them some clear-cut feedback," said Richard Young, chief of the judicial education and performance unit for the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts.
David Givens, an anthropologist who researched and videotaped judicial behavior for the Washington state judiciary for seven years, said videotapes can show potential bias in a judge.
For example, he said, if judges compress their lips when a defendant is talking, it sends a signal that they don't believe the defense. Or when they pay attention to the prosecutor, but scribble notes when the defense lawyer speaks, that implies they favor the prosecution.
National Center For State Courts
To All JAILers & News Sources:
Behind the scenes, some of us legal minds have been working on our next move in respect to the unlawful Resolution, HCR 1004 "passed" by the South Dakota Legislature.
Yesterday, Friday March 3, we finally launched our first missile via first class mail, to all of the homes of the Senators and Representatives of South Dakota.
Due to the letter being fourteen pages, this has to be sent by attachment. Also appended hereto is the South Dakota Legislative Resolution to which the letter responds.
The objective now is to give this letter publicity. Forward it on to as many contacts and media sources as you have. They will be very interested in following this.
The attached letter was mailed to the home address of all 105 SD state legislators yesterday, March 3rd. Also attached is the legislature's unlawful resolution that they passed opposing the South Dakota Judicial Accountability "Amendment E", which is on the November 7th 2006 SD ballot for the voters to decide. (The Amendment can be read at www.SouthDakotaJudicialAccountability.com )
There will soon be a news release put out to all 139 SD newspapers addressing the illicit actions of the legislature in passing their bogus resolution and the fact that they have now been put on notice that we will hold them accountable for their inappropriate (illegal) actions, just like we are proposing to do with the judges. Hmm. Seems our SD legislators also have a problem with the "A" word. They, like the judges of this state had better get used to it. That goes as well for the prosecuting attorneys and right down to the slimy lawyers of this state.
Amendment E has them all scared poopless! Once judges are held accountable, they'll all have to fall in line. Spread the word!
"To consider judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions is a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy".
-- Thomas Jefferson
In the matter of Surrogate Court corruption:
Amicus Curiae of the Citizen's Union of the State of New York v George Pataki, NYC Board of Elections, and the State of New York
Chabot backs cameras in court
Bill gives federal judges authority to allow TV coverage
BY MALIA RULON | ENQUIRER WASHINGTON BUREAU, Nov. 14, 2005
WASHINGTON - Civic-minded Cincinnatians who want to know what their government is up to can watch House and Senate proceedings and White House press briefings on C-SPAN, or get the low-down on City Hall and County Commissioner meetings on CitiCable.
But the Supreme Court and most federal courtroom dealings are off-limits - something U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Westwood, wants to change.
"Allowing television cameras in federal courts will open up the judiciary and allow the American people to see how their justice system operates," Chabot said in a statement. "This is a good public policy if you are a believer in open and accountable government."
A courtroom security bill prompted by several recent attacks on judges and their families sailed through the House Wednesday on a 375-45 vote.
The measure included a provision from Chabot that would give federal judges the authority to allow television cameras into civil and criminal trials and appeals.
Current judicial standards prohibit cameras from U.S. District courts but give judges at U.S. appellate courts the authority to allow TV coverage. However, only the 2nd Circuit in New York City and 9th Circuit in San Francisco - not the 6th Circuit in Cincinnati - do so.
All 50 states allow some form of televised coverage on the state level.
Chabot's bill would allow federal courts - including the Supreme Court - to determine whether to open a proceeding to TV cameras.
It's a measure the area lawmaker has pushed since 1997.
Yet while it has been popular in the House, it's never been voted on in the Senate, where lawmakers have expressed concerns.
That could change this year, after a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the measure last week drew support from Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the panel's chairman, who said opening the high court to cameras would be "an enormously useful tool for public understanding."
Henry Schleiff, chairman and CEO of Court TV, said the fact that cameras are allowed into more state courts shows that there is a growing consensus that having cameras in courtrooms serves the public interest. "All citizens - not just the print press or those few who can fit into a courtroom - should be able to watch their judicial system in action," he said.
C-SPAN chief executive Brian Lamb agreed, saying the public's knowledge of the U.S. court system has suffered because of the lack of TV coverage.
Still, the bill must get past the White House, which has warned that such a policy could influence court proceedings or compromise the security of witnesses.
New York Judge Considers Request for Cameras in Court
By Tom Perrotta
New York Law Journal, 06-06-2003
There were no cameras in Justice Shirley W. Kornreich's courtroom Thursday, and the judge seemed skeptical that news organizations had a constitutional right to bring them there.
"This is a policy question, is it not?" the acting Supreme Court justice asked David Boies of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, who is representing Court TV in a suit that contends New York's ban on cameras in court, enacted in 1952, is unconstitutional.
The judge's remarks came during an hour-long hearing at State Supreme Court in Manhattan, about a year and a half after Court TV filed a declaratory judgment action to wipe the camera ban -- § 52 of New York Civil Rights Law -- off the books.
New York is one of just nine states that still bans cameras at trial courts, and at least nine courts in the state have reached different conclusions on the constitutionality and scope of the statute.
For example, does the ban apply to all audio and visual devices, but not still photography? Or only television cameras? Does it differentiate between witnesses who are subpoenaed and those who are not?
Court TV brought its suit in hopes of answering those questions once and for all, and did so with the help of a road map laid out in Santiago v. Bristol, 273 AD2d 813, a 3-year-old ruling from the New York Appellate Division, 4th Department.
The declaratory judgment action -- the first ever by a media organization to attempt to invalidate a statewide ban -- argues that there is no rational basis for § 52, which relies on now-invalid assumptions like the bulky and disruptive nature of cameras. It also contends that § 52 is invalid under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and, more important, the state constitution, which prohibits government restraint on free speech.
New York Attorney General Eliot L. Spitzer, who is a defendant in the suit along with New York Gov. George E. Pataki, the state and Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, has said he supports cameras in the courtroom. But in court papers Spitzer has argued that there is no federal or state constitutional right to broadcast trials.
"The Legislature, not the courts, remains the appropriate governmental body to decide whether and under what circumstances to permit audio-visual coverage of court proceedings," Spitzer's office argued in a summary judgment motion filed in April.
The office has also based its arguments on reports from four experiments between 1987 and 1997, when the Legislature allowed cameras in courts. The office cites surveys in which people and judges in other jurisdictions that allow cameras say they have an effect on the behavior of witnesses.
Thursday, Boies opened his arguments by saying most people, including New Yorkers, get most of their news from television. But Justice Kornreich immediately said she had difficulty understanding why that mattered.
When Boies noted the public's right to attend trials, the judge replied, "There is a leap from the right to be there and the right to televise."
Boies stressed that Court TV was not seeking a license to broadcast "gavel-to-gavel" coverage of every trial, but a right to broadcast unless a judge ruled that cameras would somehow jeopardize the fairness of a trial. "We are not arguing that there is an absolute right to have cameras in the courtroom all of the time," he said.
Kornreich was not satisfied, though, and asked if there were appellate decisions finding a constitutional right, to which Boies responded no.
Later the judge asked Boies, "As someone who has been there, and I haven't, does the United States Supreme Court allow cameras in the courtroom?"
Boies said no, but did point out the high court's tacit acknowledgement of changing times and technology when it released the oral arguments in Bush v. Gore, in which Boies represented Vice President Al Gore, on audio.
Justice Kornreich also questioned one of Spitzer's assistants, Sachin S. Pandya, during his arguments, but less often.
Saying she found Boies' state constitution argument more persuasive, the judge pressed Pandya on whether the Legislature had ever expressed a rational basis for the ban. Pandya could only reply that bar associations had expressed concern at the time that witnesses would be made nervous by the spectacle.
When Kornreich asked why cameras would be more upsetting than having print reporters sitting in the front row, Pandya referred to his office's statistics, including that 53 percent of California Superior Court judges surveyed in 1996 thought cameras affected witness behavior.
Pandya said there was a rational argument to be made both for and against cameras in the court, but "the problem here is that Court TV wants a constitutional right."
He added: "That debate is properly with the Legislature, not this court."
Justice Kornreich reserved judgment on the matter.