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Federal Courts Discover the Digital Video Camera

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by Jacob Hutt, Policy Intern

Twenty years after its first video pilot study, the federal court system has launched a digital video pilot study in fourteen federal trial courts. What changed? This study seeks to enhance “public access” to courtroom footage, whereas the first study was geared towards providing “media access” to courtroom footage, said Judge Julie A. Robinson, Chair of the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management.

Judge Robinson cited a decline in the “cost and obtrusiveness of video equipment” in explaining why the second study has come about. But this pilot program has serious limitations. Video will not be permitted in criminal proceedings; both parties must consent; and appellate courts are not included. While cameras in the court are not the be-all and end-all of judicial transparency, as we've written elsewhere, these baby steps come long after the Internet has grown up (and TV has entered senescence).

A number of state courts already make available video feeds. The federal courts should run to catch up.