Northern District of California court to consider release of Prop 8 trial video

by on August 28, 2011  •  In Uncategorized

Tomorrow at 9 am PDT, federal Judge James Ware, to whom the Perry v. Brown case was transferred after Judge Walker's retirement, will hear arguments on plaintiffs' motion to release to the public the video tapes made of the trial, which occurred more than a year ago.

Monday's L A Times will carry this op-ed by Lucy Dalglish, the E.D. of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (excerpted):

"What transpires in the court room is public property." Writing those words in 1947, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a principle so intrinsic to our national character that it predates the Declaration of Independence.

America's founders believed that justice was facilitated by openness. In 1774, the first Continental Congress specifically stated that trials should occur "in open court, before as many of the people as choose to attend." Their reasoning was that public openness would ensure the honesty of judges, witnesses and jurors, who could not "injure [the defendant] without injuring their own reputation."…

In today's fast-paced, globalized, digital society, audiovisual records are the best way to bring a trial or court hearing to life and to throw open the doors of our justice system to "as many of the people as choose to attend," not just those lucky enough to sit in the courtroom…

Proponents of Proposition 8 contend that the trial videos should be sealed to prevent the potential intimidation of their two expert witnesses who testified against gay marriage in this case, or the possibility of intimidation in unrelated hypothetical future cases.

The plaintiffs, who successfully presented strong evidence that persuaded the then-chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to declare Proposition 8 unconstitutional, point out that these claims of intimidation are not only unsubstantiated but also moot, since the trial is over and the witnesses' names and testimony are already part of the public record.

… It is simply time for the courts to acknowledge that video records are a natural, lawful and useful evolution in the American judicial tradition of open court proceedings and judicial records.

The beneficial influences of such a video record have already been demonstrated in studies showing that witnesses tend to be more truthful, specific and detail-oriented when facing a camera they believe is recording their testimony…

The concept of an "open court, before as many people as choose to attend," is reinforced through the power of video: Virtually anyone who wants to "attend" or study a trial can now do so, and in a case such as Perry, where the lives of millions of Americans are materially affected by the outcome, such a development is clearly in the public interest…


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