Judicial Conference Approves Pilot Project To Evaluate Cameras In The Federal District Courts

Judicial Conference signals possible change in policy for cameras in federal courts; three-year pilot program will evaluate the impact on district court civil proceedings; details for the pilot program will be issued by the Committee on Court Administration and Case Management

Since 1996, the policy of the Judicial Conference of the United States has allowed each circuit council to determine the circumstances in which cameras, if any, may be permitted in their courts in civil cases and under what circumstances. See Report Of The Proceedings Of The Judicial Conference Of The United States, at 17 (March 12, 1996) (“The Judicial Conference agreed to authorize each court of appeals to decide for itself whether to permit the taking of photographs and radio and television coverage of appellate arguments, subject to any restrictions in statutes, national and local rules, and such guidelines as the Judicial Conference may adopt.”); see also Report Of The Proceedings Of The Judicial Conference Of The United States, at 17 (Sept. 15, 1996) (“In light of the Judicial Conference’s strong opposition to cameras in courtrooms, determined to oppose the judiciary’s federal courts improvement bill if it includes a provision authorizing presiding judges of district and appellate courts to permit media coverage of court proceedings.”). Cameras are prohibited in criminal proceedings under Fed. R. Crim. P. 53 (“Except as otherwise provided by a statute or these rules, the court must not permit the taking of photographs in the courtroom during judicial proceedings or the broadcasting of judicial proceedings from the courtroom.”).

The issue of cameras in federal courts has been gaining increasing attention during the past year. See, e.g., Recent Action In Two Circuits Highlights Issue Of Cameras In The Federal Courtroom; Supreme Court Watch: No Broadcast Of Proposition 8 Bench Trial After Supreme Court Stay.

On September 14, 2010, the Judicial Conference announced that it approved a pilot project “to evaluate the effect of cameras in federal district courtrooms and the public release of digital video recordings of some civil proceedings.” According to the announcement:

The pilot, which will be national in scope, will last up to three years. It will evaluate the effect of cameras in district court courtrooms, video recordings of proceedings, and publication of such video recordings. Details of the development and implementation of the pilot will be determined by the Conference’s Committee on Court Administration and Case Management (CACM).

Courts that participate in the pilot will, if necessary, amend their local rules (providing adequate public notice and opportunity to comment) to provide an exception for judges participating in the pilot project. Participation in the pilot will be at the trial judge’s discretion.

Under the pilot, participating courts will record proceedings. Recordings by other entities or persons will not be allowed. Recording of members of a jury will not be permitted, and parties in a trial must consent to participating in the pilot.

The Federal Judicial Center will conduct a study of the pilot, and produce interim reports at the end of its first and second years. The Administrative Office of the United States Courts will provide funding for equipment and training as needed by a participating court.

The Judicial Conference consists of the Chief Justice of the United States, who presides over the forum, the chief judge of each court of appeals, one district judge from each circuit, and the Chief Judge of the Court of International Trade. See 28 U.S.C. § 331; see also Current Membership of the Judicial Conference (2010).

For more information, visit the Cameras And Electronic Devices In The Federal Courtroom Resource Page, which contains a library of documents including judicial conference policies, judicial guidelines, legislation and hearings, cases and other articles of interest. If you are aware of other information to add to the library, please contact us. Constructive comments are always welcome.


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