Television cameras may be coming soon, for the first time, to a limited number of federal trial courtrooms in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.
The Judicial Council of 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals announced in San Francisco today it has approved a pilot program for the limited use of cameras in federal trial courts in the nine western states in the circuit’s jurisdiction.
The council said the program will be undertaken on an experimental basis in nonjury civil trials.
Cases to be considered for the program will be chosen by the chief judge of each trial court, known as district court, in consultation with Chief 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski.
Kozinski said in a statement, “The experiment is designed to help us find the right balance between the public’s right to access to the courts and the parties’ right to a fair and dignified proceeding.”
The 9th Circuit has allowed television and radio broadcasting of oral arguments in appeals of civil cases since 1991, if the panel of judges hearing the appeal grants permission.
Cameras are also allowed in courtrooms in the state court system in both civil and criminal cases at the judge’s discretion.
But cameras have not been allowed in federal trial courts in the west until now.
The nine western states in the 9th Circuit contain 15 district courts, including the Northern District of California, which has its headquarters in San Francisco and branches in Oakland and San Jose.
One possible candidate for television coverage is next month’s trial in San Francisco on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage.
U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, the trial judge in that case, said at a pretrial hearing Wednesday that he would consider allowing television if the judicial council approved a program, as it did today.
Walker, who is also chief judge of the Northern District, is scheduled to preside beginning on Jan. 11 over a nonjury trial of a lawsuit filed by two same-sex couples to challenge the marriage ban.
In September, he asked lawyers on both sides for their views on whether television cameras should be allowed during the several-week trial.
Charles Cooper, a lawyer for the sponsors of Proposition 8, told the judge in an Oct. 5 letter that he believed cameras could endanger the fairness of the trial.
Cooper wrote, “Given the highly contentious and politicized nature of Proposition 8 and the issue of same-sex marriage in general, the possibility of compromised safety, witness intimidation and/or harassment of trial participants is very real.”
But Christopher Dusseault, a lawyer for the two couples who filed the challenge to Proposition 8, wrote in an Oct. 2 letter, “Plaintiffs do not object to the transmission of images from our proceedings.”
When asked whether a trial judge would be required to get consent of both sides before allowing cameras, 9th Circuit spokesman David Madden said there is currently no rule requiring the parties’ consent.
But Madden said, “This will be an evolutionary process. There are no rules yet and we are seeking to develop them based on experience.”
The spokesman said, “What we anticipate is that a court will propose allowing cameras and its chief judge and the circuit chief judge will confer on whether and how to allow them.”