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4:40 PM: A federal judge in San Francisco today approved the broadcasting on YouTube of a trial that begins next week on a lawsuit challenging California’s same-sex marriage ban.

The video, which can be seen on the Internet or rebroadcast by television stations, will be the first time that a federal trial in western states has been broadcast.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said at a pretrial hearing, “I think it’s worth attempting in a case of this nature and of this public interest.”

Walker will preside beginning on Monday over a two-week nonjury trial on a lawsuit in which two same-sex couples claim the state’s ban on gay and lesbian marriage violates their federal constitutional rights.

The measure was enacted by California voters in 2008 as Proposition 8.

The trial itself will be the first in the nation on a federal constitutional challenge to restrictions on same-sex marriage, according to Theodore Boutrous, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

The video will be taken by the court staff and transmitted to YouTube, where it will be posted after a delay.

The broadcasting was made possible when the Judicial Council of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last month approved a pilot program to allow cameras in federal courtrooms in civil nonjury trials in nine western states.

Walker’s plan to allow broadcasting of the Proposition 8 trial must be approved by Chief 9th Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski.

Television cameras have previously been allowed in the state court system and in some federal appeals court hearings, but generally not in federal trial courts nationwide.

Boutrous said there has been some limited televising in federal trial courts in New York.
Walker turned down an offer by In Session, formerly known as Court TV, to do professional recording and broadcasting. The judge said, “I think it’s important for the process to be completely under the court’s control.”

He said he will halt the broadcasting if it turns out to be distracting or to cause problems.
After the hearing, Theodore Olson, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said, “This is a great step for Americans. We’re very, very grateful to the court.”

Olson said, “This means that those who will be affected by the case will be able to see for themselves the operation of the justice system.”

Michael Kirk, a lawyer for the sponsors of Proposition 8, argued against broadcasting, telling Walker that his clients feared that witnesses could be intimidated by the prospect that their testimony could be aired before potentially millions of people worldwide.

“We do think broadcasting imperils proponents’ right to a fair trial before this court,” Kirk said.

Kirk declined to comment after the trial on whether the Proposition 8 supporters will seek to appeal to block the broadcasting plan.

The court’s information technology officer, Buz Rico, said during a demonstration at the start of the hearing that federal government has a contract with San Bruno-based YouTube. He said the webcasting of the trial could be similar to YouTube’s current posting of speeches by President Obama.

Rico said the delay in posting the videotapes could extend until the day after each session.

But Boutrous and Thomas Burke, a lawyer for In Session and other media organizations, said outside of court that they hoped the delay would be less than that and said they would be available to help with making the webcasts close in time to the actual court sessions.

Aaron Zamost, a spokesman for YouTube, said he could not comment or answer questions about how the webcasts would work because the plan has not yet received final approval.

The video-sharing Web site, founded in 2005, was acquired by Mountain View-based Google Inc. in 2006. Zamost noted that it provides channels to dozens of federal government agencies.

Rick Jacobs, chairman of the Los Angeles-based Courage Campaign Institute, a pro-gay-marriage group, called the plan to allow YouTube webcasts an important “halfway measure” for public access to the trial.

Jacobs said, “This precedent-setting ruling is an important first step and it is halfway to a fair hearing.”

11:56 AM: A federal judge in San Francisco announced today that he will allow television broadcasting of a trial that begins next week on a lawsuit challenging California’s same-sex marriage ban.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said, “I think it’s worth attempting in a case of this nature and of this public interest.”

Broadcasting of federal trials has previously been prohibited, but last month a federal appeals court judicial council authorized a pilot program to broadcast some non-jury civil trials in western states.

The same-sex marriage trial, which is due to begin Jan. 11, would be the first to be broadcast under the new rule.

The recording would be done by court staff members and would be posted after a delay on YouTube, where it would be publicly available.

Walker turned down an offer by In Session, formerly known as Court TV, to do professional recording and broadcasting. The judge said, “I think it’s important for the process to be completely under the court’s control.”

The judge said he will halt the broadcasting if it turns out to be distracting or to cause problems.

Walker said the broadcasting plan will require the approval of 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.

The trial, which will be heard by Walker without a jury, will be on a lawsuit in which two same-sex couples claim that California’s ban on gay and lesbian marriage violates their federal constitutional rights. The ban was enacted by state voters in 2008 as Proposition 8.

The trial is scheduled to last two to three weeks.

Theodore Boutrous, a lawyer for the plaintiffs argued, that the trial was ideal for broadcasting because of its “extraordinary public interest.”

Michael Kirk, a lawyer for the sponsors of Proposition 8, said his clients opposed broadcasting because they believe some witnesses may be intimidated by cameras.

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  • Jackson West

    The fact that the court is producing the footage should mean that it’s in the public domain, so fire up your copies of Final Cut Pro, kids!