Saturday, July 03, 2010

Cameras in the Courtroom and Justice

Cameron Stracher, a New York writer and media lawyer wrote Who's Afraid of Cameras in the Courtroom, an opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal, on July 2. Mr. Stracher argues the prohibition of audio and video recording in the courtroom is over broad and inconsistent with the non-stop media coverage of trials outside the courtroom.

Mr. Stracher does note the Supreme Court precedent, Estes v. Texas, wherein the Court explained cameras have a prejudicial effect on pre-trial publicity, affect the truthfulness of witnesses, and generally impact fair-trial rights.

The distinction is that the parties have rights in the courtroom they do not have on the street. The courtroom is a place of equal justice under law. The street has different rules. For example, in workers' compensation law, we bring the workplace into the courtroom. The supervisor and the claimant are subject to command and control in the workplace, but in the courtroom they are equals.

The current rule allowing only reporters with notebooks and sketch pads maintains the balance of the rights of parties in the courtroom. With a recording device on, a witness is aware that the witness's words and actions will go directly to observers outside the courtroom. The witness will be concerned with a sound or video bite taken out of context and its effect in the court of public voyeurism. The parties must be free to tell their story, warts and all.

The warts almost always lend credibility to the story.

No one is afraid of cameras in the courtroom. They are just inconsistent with the administration of justice.

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