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WASHINGTON � The Senate Judiciary Committee approved legislation Thursday authorizing the chief judges of federal district and appellate courts to permit cameras in courtrooms and another measure that would limit protective orders. The so-called Sunshine in the Courtroom Act, S. 352, would allow photographing, electronic recording, broadcasting or televising of court proceedings except when it would violate the due process rights of any party. The House has a similar bill pending final floor action. “The bill will help the public become better informed about the judicial process and produce a healthier judiciary. It goes to the heart of an open, transparent government and is based upon the core beliefs of our Constitution’s Founding Fathers about the judiciary,” said the bills’ chief sponsor, Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. “Nearly all state courts allow cameras in courtrooms. It’s time for the sun to shine on the federal courts. The public has a right to know what goes on behind the courthouse doors.” Under the bill, a district court, upon the request of any witness in a trial other than a party, may order the face and voice of the witness to be disguised or otherwise obscured, and the presiding judge in a trial proceeding is to inform each witness who is not a party of the right to make that request. The bill also would authorize the Judicial Conference of the U.S. to issue advisory guidelines for presiding judges to help them make decisions regarding the use of cameras in courtrooms. Grassley said 48 states currently permit some form of audio-video coverage in their courtrooms and at least 37 directly televise trials. He also said studies and surveys conducted in many of those states have confirmed that electronic media coverage of trials boosts public understanding of the court system without interfering with court proceedings. In order for Congress to study the effects of the legislation on the courts before making this change permanent, the bill includes a three-year sunset provision. The committee also sent to the full Senate the “Sunshine in Litigation Act,” S. 2449. Under the bill, judges must consider public health and safety before granting a protective order or sealing court records and settlement agreements. They have the discretion to grant or deny secrecy based on a balancing test that weighs the public’s interest in a potential public health and safety hazard and legitimate interests in secrecy. Any requested protective order would have to be no broader than necessary to protect the privacy interest. The bill also would prohibit any party from requesting, as a condition for the production of discovery, that another party stipulate to an order that would violate the Act. The bill’s chief sponsor, Senator Herb Kohl, D-Wisc., said his legislation was prompted by dozens of cases in which hazards and threats to public health were not disclosed during court settlements and subsequently resulted in additional fatalities, serious injuries and illnesses. “Far too often, our courts permit vital information that is discovered in litigation � which bears directly on public health and safety � to be covered up,” said Kohl. “This legislation simply says that while litigants may want total confidentiality when resolving their disputes in court, information about public health and safety dangers does not deserve court-endorsed protection. This bill creates the appropriate balance between secrecy and openness in cases involving public health and safety.”

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