Panel considers opening Minnesota courtrooms to TV camerasby Martiga Lohn, Associated Press
St. Paul, Minn. — (AP) Judges and lawyers on a Minnesota advisory panel had many questions Friday for a colleague from Iowa, where television cameras have been allowed to record courtroom trials for decades.
That almost never happens in Minnesota because court rules are so restrictive.
Things could change here, though. The advisory panel to the state Supreme Court is considering a news media proposal to relax the rules, allowing cameras in courtrooms at the discretion of the presiding judge. The panel listened to arguments for the plan and may ultimately recommend changes to the high court.
Iowa District Court Judge Patrick Grady said he is comfortable with his state's policy, which gives electronic media access to most court proceedings upon request. He said public confidence in the judicial system has grown because of the coverage.
"Over time I think we've been fairly successful in making the media coverage non-obtrusive," Grady said. "I think we look better the more people know about us. We can all watch courtroom dramas until we're sick. It's important for people to know how careful we are."
The Iowa rules limit coverage to two television cameras, two still photographers and one audio recording. Media who get into the courtroom have to share their coverage with other news organizations who request it, and it's all coordinated by a media-appointed representative so it doesn't cost the courts extra, Grady said.
The Iowa policy bars recording images of victims, child witnesses, undercover police officers and jury members, except when the jury is delivering a verdict or appears in the background next to a witness or an exhibit, Grady said. Cameras are also banned from juvenile court proceedings unless all parties agree.
Minnesota's current policy for TV and still photographers requires consent from the judge and both parties to the lawsuit, a standard that's almost never met. The state has no official policy regarding audio recordings, said Supreme Court spokesman Kyle Christopherson.
Rick Kupchella, an anchor and reporter at KARE-TV in the Twin Cities, described his efforts to get a camera into a drunken-driving trial as part of a story about the consequences of drunken driving arrests. He said the defendant and judge agreed, but the prosecuting attorney declined.
"It is almost impossible to get a camera in a courtroom when anybody and everybody can veto them," he said.
The proposal from several media organizations would let electronic media into courtrooms under most circumstances, but judges would still have authority to bar them. Video and still photographers wouldn't be allowed to move around the courtroom, use flashes or floodlights or record private discussions between attorneys and clients or attorneys and judges.
Opponents fear cameras might sensationalize the courtroom atmosphere, potentially intimidating victims and witnesses, influencing decisions about charges and sentences and leading to grandstanding by attorneys and judges.
But attorney Mark Anfinson, who's representing the media organizations, said modern wiring allows electronic media to operate without disrupting the proceedings, and the psychological effect of being recorded on camera in the courtroom is no greater than facing cameras on the steps outside.
"The more experience people have with electronic media coverage, the less they oppose it," Anfinson said.
Still, skepticism persists. Minnesota Supreme Court Associate Justice G. Barry Anderson said television news reports tend to show only the most emotional moments of a trial.
"It seems to me that the public picks up the wrong impression," he said.
Anderson argued against courtroom cameras in a 1992 opinion piece published in the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, where he said, "No one benefits from television coverage of trials."
But during a break in the meeting, he said things have changed dramatically in the past 15 years and he's open-minded about the issue.
The advisory panel is taking written comments from the public and is expected to revisit the issue on Oct. 24. If the Minnesota Supreme Court were to change the state policy on courtroom cameras, public hearings would be held first, Anderson said.
Meanwhile, Grady said news coverage of his courtroom helps him persuade youth that not all judges are like television's "Judge Judy": "They think that we are the most caustic, abusive, sarcastic people that walk the face of the earth, and I don't think we are," he said.