Celebrating the 30th anniversary of cameras in the courts.More than 80 satellite trucks wrapped around Tallahassee's Capitol Complex. Inside the Florida Supreme Courtroom, four permanently installed robotically operated cameras were ready to feed live video to the world's major news networks.
At 10 a.m., on December 7, 2000, oral arguments would begin as justices and lawyers delved into Vice President Al Gore's request to recount disputed votes.
In living rooms and offices across the globe, millions sat down to watch historical gavel-to-gavel oral arguments broadcast live on all major networks, just as they had on November 20, 2000, in a separate appeal arising from the 2000 presidential election dispute.
"It is nearly impossible to imagine a court news story bigger than this, nor one in which broad worldwide transparency was achieved by court officials rigorously managing and sincerely cooperating with the media," Craig Waters, the high court's public information officer flung into the international spotlight, wrote in an academic paper, "Technological Transparency: Appellate Court and Media Relations After Bush v. Gore."
As the dispute played out in various venues around the state, international and national reporters gathered in Tallahassee were amazed that every court hearing allowed cameras to roll.
In a case in which everyone in the country had a stake in the outcome and spectators worldwide waited for finality, Florida's pioneering spirit regarding cameras in the courts was put to the ultimate test. And Florida passed with flying colors.
"The great lesson of the 2000 election situation was that everyone, from the beginning to the end, accepted that the issues of that election were going to be resolved in the courts and not in the streets," said Charles Wells, chief justice in 2000.
A big part of that acceptance was derived from a global audience receiving unfiltered, accurate information in real time that only cameras in the courtroom could bring.
Join me in celebrating the 30th anniversary of Florida's adoption of Fla. R. Jud. Admin. 2.170, Standards of Conduct and Technology Governing Electronic Media and Still Photography Coverage of Judicial Proceedings, (renumbered as 2.450 in 2006) that created the nation's broadest rule allowing cameras into courtrooms.
Thirty years ago, the presumption was created that cameras were permitted in courtrooms, without requiring permission from parties or the judge, as long as minimum standards were followed.
Two years later, in 1981, the Florida rule and statute passed the test in Chandler v. Florida, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 8-0 that a television camera in a trial of two Florida police officers accused of stealing $3,000 from a Miami Beach restaurant did not violate due process. At the time of the Chandler decision, Florida was experimenting with a pilot program to allow cameras in its courtrooms, and the outcome dispelled fears that cameras would unduly intimidate witnesses and jurors, impede the fair administration of justice, or lessen the dignity of courts.
Chandler reversed a 1965 camera-banning decision in Estes v. Texas, where a dozen cameramen, glaring lights, a trio of microphones on the bench, and cables and wires snaking across the courtroom floor created a circus-like atmosphere.
By 1981, cameras were smaller, quieter, needed no extra lights, and the high court ruled that the mere presence of a camera in a courtroom is not, in itself, unconstitutional. That decision paved the way for other cameras-in-the-courts experiments across the country.
With Florida leading the way, in 2001, South Dakota became the 50th state to allow cameras in the courtroom in some fashion--though many states have limitations, such as Minnesota where, if anyone in the case objects, the judge can keep cameras out.
In Florida, we applaud the public's right to see how justice is carried out in our courts and embrace the camera as a tool to better educate the public about the judicial branch. Letting the sun shine in is the best way to demystify the courts, foster public confidence, and enhance fair trials. The courtroom camera gets the story right, creates a record of the proceeding, and serves as the eyes and ears of the public.
A courtroom is not a star chamber or a Spanish Inquisition. The Sixth Amendment guarantees the right to a public trial, where citizens have a right to be present.
This belief is as old as the birth of our nation. In a letter in 1775, just before the Declaration of Independence, John Dickinson, who represented Pennsylvania in the first Continental Congress, wrote: "Next great right is that of trial by jury ... upon a fair trial and full inquiry, face to face, in open court, before ... as many of the people as choose to attend."
Obviously, there is no courtroom large enough to hold all the people who wish to attend today's highprofile cases, so we must bring the courtroom to the people. In the 21st century, not to allow cameras is like locking the courtroom door.