Group votes to keep ban on cameras in U.S. courts

September 21, 1994|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,Washington Bureau of The Sun

WASHINGTON -- The federal courts' policy-making group, refusing to join in a widespread trend in the state courts, voted yesterday to keep intact a long-standing ban on television and radio broadcasts of federal trials and appeals hearings.

The vote by the U.S. Judicial Conference also will end a limited experiment when its time runs out at the end of this year.

By a margin of about 2-1, the U.S. Judicial Conference turned down a committee's proposal to allow cameras and tape recorders into civil cases beginning May 1 in every federal District Court and in all U.S. Courts of Appeals.

Then, by a voice vote with no apparent dissent, the conference rejected a plea by another committee that it abolish the present rule against any cameras or tape recorders in federal criminal cases.

The conference actions are not binding on the Supreme Court, but the justices have shown no interest, despite repeated requests, in opening their hearings to broadcast.

Timothy B. Dyk, a Washington lawyer who has worked for 10 years in the campaign to open up the courts for radio and TV broadcasting, said yesterday's vote "really means that for some time to come, the federal courts are going to be closed to cameras while the vast majority of states' are open."

Some 47 states now allow some form of camera coverage in their courts; the exact level allowed varies widely.

Widespread coverage of state cases, including the celebrated murder case against O. J. Simpson in a California state court and the trial of suicide doctor Jack Kevorkian earlier this year in Michigan, has made actual trials a staple of U.S. television.

It also has given rise to a cable network, Court TV, that is devoted mainly to trial coverage. Court TV will be one of the major losers as a result of the renewal of the federal court ban yesterday.

The conference, made up of 26 top-ranking federal judges and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, had allowed a modest broadcasting experiment for the past three years in civil cases in six federal trial courts and two appeals courts. That test period will end Dec. 31.

A Federal Judicial Center study of the results of that experiment showed no significant disruption of cases covered by broadcast crews. That led to proposals to open the remainder of the courts -- the recommendations that the conference turned down yesterday after about 20 minutes of discussion, a spokesman said.

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