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A majority of Delaware’s Supreme Court justices support still photography and live television and radio coverage in the Court of Chancery and in the Superior Court for non-jury civil trials. But don’t expect to see friends and colleagues on the news or to hear them on the radio anytime soon: members of the bench, the bar and the media have yet to iron out the details of what will be a six-month experiment, according to members of the Bar-Bench-Media Conference. Currently, electronic media coverage and photography are permitted only in the state Supreme Court. But in July, the group of lawyers, judges and media personnel who make up the conference took steps toward increased media access by asking the state Supreme Court to permit it in other courts on an experimental basis. The conference is a state Supreme Court committee that was formed in 1975 to foster the cooperation that is necessary for conducting fair and impartial court proceedings without encroaching on the freedom of the press. At a conference meeting last month, state Supreme Court Justice Jack B. Jacobs said expanded media coverage would begin sometime this year. There are courtrooms in New Castle, Kent and Sussex counties that are already audio- and camera-ready, Jacobs said. Superior Court President Judge Henry duPont Ridgely said his courtroom is now wired so that most of its proceedings can be digitally recorded. The extent to which the press can take advantage of the technologically advanced courtrooms is limited, however. Cameras will be permitted only in the courtrooms that are already wired to support them, and the cameras must be hidden, Jacobs said. All microphones must be voice-activated, and trial judges will have the final say on whether proceedings in their courtrooms are aired. But the requirement that could present the biggest stumbling block is that the media will have to bear the expense of installing the cameras in the courtrooms. State Supreme Court Justice Randy J. Holland said at the meeting that equipping a courtroom with just one camera could mean shelling out approximately $20,000, depending on the quality of the equipment installed. And whoever contributes the equipment will essentially donate it to the state, since it will remain a permanent courtroom fixture that is available to all members of the press, he said. Holland suggested that the conference explore ways for the courts and the media to share the cost of equipping the courtrooms, though he said he could not promise that the courts would be able to contribute. According to Jacobs, state Supreme Court Chief Justice E. Norman Veasey could issue a directive that would greenlight the expanded coverage as early as March 2004. A workshop for conference members and representatives from non-member media organizations has been scheduled for the end of January; it is intended to ensure that the courts set out a workable plan for the press. Jacobs said that once all the plans are finalized, the state Supreme Court will present the conditions of the experimental coverage to the trial judges for their approval. Veasey’s directive will follow. Earlier in 2003, the Chancery Court unanimously gave its support to expanded media coverage, while the Superior Court voted 12 to seven in favor of video and audio recordings of its proceedings. Ridgely in January told the Delaware Law Weekly that electronic coverage in the state’s courtrooms would provide enhanced public scrutiny of judicial proceedings. “Given the quality of the Delaware bench and bar,” he said, “we expect camera coverage to enhance public trust and confidence in the Delaware courts.” When questioned about the results of last month’s conference meeting, practitioners said that they, too, are in favor of increased media access. Delaware Trial Lawyers Association president Randall Robbins said his organization has told the state Supreme Court it does not object to experimenting with electronic coverage. Robbins said that in the DTLA’s view, the endeavor is worthwhile, at least insofar as it applies to civil tort cases; he said he couldn’t speak for attorneys who try other kinds of disputes. Similarly, Duane Morris managing partner John Reed said he believes expanded coverage is a positive step, provided that it does not cross over to jury trials. “I think you start with the proposition that the courtrooms are open to the public to ensure the integrity of the process,” Reed said, “but what goes on [in court] is not for entertainment purposes.” Reed characterized the nation’s fascination with reality TV as a disturbing one, and said people will watch trials for the same reasons they watch reality TV shows. The judicial process, he emphasized, is in place to fulfill a purpose, which is seeing that the right thing is done. Reed said he is pleased with the idea of live coverage in Chancery Court because it will permit shareholders and those involved in the financial markets to keep tabs on companies. According to Delaware State Bar Association president Charles McDowell, the DSBA Executive Committee shared its views on expanded media coverage with the conference last spring. McDowell said that after consulting with several DSBA sections, it became clear that many members were concerned about litigants’ rights suffering with the introduction of cameras in the courtroom. The executive committee therefore suggested that all litigants in a matter should have to agree to allow cameras at their trials before live coverage would be permitted, McDowell said. “Nevertheless,” McDowell said, “in deference to the Court of Chancery, which we understood had endorsed a limited experiment in that court, the executive committee of the bar association supported a limited experiment in that court.” According to the Radio-Television News Directors Association & Foundation Web site, 25 states permit fairly broad use of cameras in their courtrooms; eight states prohibit camera use in certain criminal cases or where certain witnesses object to the coverage; and 17 states, including Delaware, either directly or through strict rules on trial coverage limit TV cameras to appellate cases. The District of Columbia is the only jurisdiction that prohibits all trial and appellate coverage.

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