The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 9, 2013

Allowing cameras a sharp decision

Why it matters: The courts belong to the public, so the more access the better.

The Mankato Free Press

---- — The Minnesota Supreme Court’s decision to continue allowing cameras in courtrooms for some civil cases is not just progress for the media, which cover cases, but for the public, which has the right to know what goes on in our state’s courtrooms.

The state high court’s decision to extend the practice of allowing cameras in courtrooms comes after a two-year pilot project that went smoothly. An advisory committee issued a report that concluded the pilot project found no problems, according to the Pioneer Press.

To add even better news to the good news, the court ordered a study to see if cameras should be considered in certain criminal proceedings as well. Those are often the cases the public is most interested in and are costly when the big cases go all the way to trial. The consequences of the trials are also of utmost significance when you consider that charges and convictions affect defendants the rest of their lives.

Minnesota is not breaking new ground by allowing cameras or by considering expanding the reach of them. More than 35 states already allowed cameras in the courtroom to some degree when Minnesota started its pilot project. The neighboring states of Iowa and Wisconsin have had cameras in courtrooms for about 30 years.

It’s about time that Minnesota took the access issue more seriously. With so many other states proving that cameras don’t automatically mean courtrooms become a circus show, the overblown caution isn’t warranted. Extremely sensitive civil cases, such as child custody, divorce, juvenile, child protection paternity and civil commitment proceedings are all exempt.

The first federal appeals court in the country is opening its doors to cameras today in San Francisco. Chief Judge Alex Kozinski of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals captured the sound reasoning for allowing access: “Video streaming is a way to open the court’s doors even wider so that more people can see and hear what transpires in the courtroom, particularly in regard to some of our most important cases.”

Who’s going to challenge the judge on that?

Minnesota’s test of allowing audio and camera recordings in criminal cases will be limited to certain proceedings, such as arraignments, pretrial hearings and sentencings where witnesses and jurors aren’t likely to be present, the Pioneer Press reports. That’s a reasonable start — one that the public should be happy to see as the state’s courts become more accessible.