N.J. high court rejects bid to limit camera access

Friday, October 10, 2003

NEWARK, N.J. — The state Supreme Court has rejected a proposal by a lawyers group that would have required the consent of litigants to allow cameras in the courtroom.

The New Jersey State Bar Association had proposed the change last month, but the high court refused to include the change Oct. 8 when it released revised guidelines for camera access.

“Without consent, those rights (of the litigants) should not be threatened by the ordeal, and potential embarrassment that may result from unwanted media attention,” Karol Corbin Walker, president of the bar association, wrote in a letter sent to the judiciary.

Lawyers representing news media organizations opposed the change. Seventeen of them wrote to the courts office decrying the proposal as a “wholly misguided, unconstitutional assault on speech and press rights.”

The media lawyers maintained that potential embarrassment is not enough reason to keep cameras out and that no evidence indicates that having a camera in a courtroom compromises a trial’s fairness.

“Proceedings in our state’s courtrooms are the public’s business, and must remain so,” they argued.

New Jersey began allowing cameras in courtrooms in 1979 at the discretion of the presiding judge.

“It is important, we believe, for cameras to come into the courtroom so that the general public can see court proceedings in action,” Winnie Comfort, spokeswoman for the state Administrative Office of the Courts, told The Star-Ledger of Newark.

The court’s guidelines were first issued in 1981 and last revised in 1991. The basic principles remain the same in the latest revisions, the court said in a news release. “Overall, the established guidelines have proven effective in providing media access to court proceedings, while ensuring fairness and orderly proceedings in the courts,” the high court said.

The revisions include clarified guidelines on when cameras will not be allowed in courtrooms, such as in cases involving child neglect or child abuse.

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