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Turn cameras back on in court

Saturday, March 16, 2013 - Updated: 4:31 PM

During a 10-year period, from 1987-97, New York state conducted a series of experimental programs in which judges were allowed to authorize the use of audio and visual recording equipment when it came to covering court proceedings.

During that time, there was no evidence that an unobtrusive presence of a camera during trials caused any miscarriage of justice, even though there's long been concern that judges and lawyers would be unable to control themselves and start grandstanding during proceedings.

Unfortunately, in 1997, the state legislature refused to renew the programs, and the lens caps have largely been put back on the cameras. There are instances when judges have allowed cameras into their courtrooms, but those instances have been rare.

New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman is proposing to restore the rights of journalists to begin covering court proceedings with audiovisual proceedings. We support Lippman's decision; cameras should be allowed back in courtrooms.

We understand the need to keep proceedings calm and orderly. In Montgomery County's recent double-murder trial, the defendant, Ivan Ramos, who was convicted of the crimes, had a few outbursts and disrupted the process at times.

However, those situations were quickly squashed, mainly because the judge presiding over the case maintained control of the courtroom. We doubt the presence of a camera would have made matters worse.

Courts at any level belong to the public, and as such, the public should have a right to know what happens during trials and hearings. Because of capacity issues, the use of audio and visual recording equipment gives people increased access to the court system.

We believe judges should have some say when it comes to using cameras in courts. Judge have a right to instruct journalists to not record images of jurors and other parts of proceedings that will disrupt the process. Everyone has the right to a fair trial, and we would never support anything that would take that away.

Judges already allow -- albeit rarely -- still photography during proceedings, and there haven't been many instances of those cameras stopping the wheels of justice from turning. Granted, the presence of video recording equipment is more noticeable, but judges and lawyers should be professional enough to not let that distract from the task at hand. If they can't control themselves when the cameras are on, maybe they shouldn't hold those jobs in the first place.

The state should reauthorize the use of cameras in courts. Anything that gives the public greater access to their government -- which includes the judicial branch -- can only open the door to greater transparency when it comes to conducting the public's business.

     

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