A Webcast with appeal

November 30, 2006

At 10 this morning, as the court crier says, "All rise, please," and the seven judges of Maryland's Court of Appeals file into the courtroom in Annapolis, anyone with a computer should be able to tune in. The state's highest court is expected to go high-tech today with live Webcasts of oral arguments. The court's online availability is a welcome development in the administration and understanding of justice.

Before today, court proceedings were open mainly to whoever could get one of the 90 available seats in the fourth-floor courtroom with historic wood paneling. Now by going to mdcourts.gov, countless online viewers will see and hear the red-robed judges seated in their comfortable leather chairs and the lawyer for each side alternately standing at the lectern in front of the bench. Their exchanges will be captured for now by a single stationary camera, but additional cameras could show different courtroom angles in the future.

Among the issues being heard today are whether police in Charles County had the right to stop someone who "loosely fit" the description of a robbery suspect. But however scintillating today's session turns out to be, it's a mere warm-up for next week's main event - oral arguments scheduled for Monday on whether gay marriages are legal in Maryland. The case, Conaway v. Deane, has drawn statewide and national interest, prompting more than 50 organizations, advocacy groups and individuals to file or join friend-of-the-court briefs.

Such intense interest in the case was a key impetus for court officials to figure out how to provide broader access to live proceedings. As Maryland joins the more than 20 states whose high courts put at least some of their proceedings online, the public can take pride in their solution.

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