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BLOG: #OpenNYCourts - 06/25/13

by Sean Carroll

Rochester, N.Y. (6/25/13, 2:45 p.m.) --- In April Utah became the 38th state in the U.S. to pass legislation allowing cameras and other technology inside courtrooms.  38 states, and counting, have recognized what an open court system means to their communities.  Former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. noted this in 1884:

"It is desirable that the trial of causes should take place under the public eye, not because the controversies of one citizen with another are of public concern, but because it is of the highest moment that those who administer justice should always act under the sense of public responsibility, and that every citizen should be able to satisfy himself with his own eyes as to the mode in which a public duty is performed." --- Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., Massachusetts Supreme Court, Cowley v. Pulsifer.

It is now time for New York to recognize what Holmes did nearly 120 years ago.  It is up to lawmakers in Albany to at last re-address legislation that they allowed to sunset in the 1990's.  It is time for Governor Andrew Cuomo, who promised a transparent government throughout his 2010 campaign, to act on that pledge and offer the People of New York more access to the judicial branch of government.

This call to action comes at a time when some of these same elected lawmakers find themselves inside courtrooms facing criminal charges or civil lawsuits.  It comes at a time when citizens are given new reasons each week to question how their government operates and whose interests it serves.  It comes at a time when even the U.S. Supreme Court is beginning to creek open its doors to allow audio recordings on important issues like healthcare reform or marriage.

In the Greater Rochester community Administrative Judge Craig Doran has championed an improved dialogue between members of the media and the court system.  It is a dialogue that needs to happen and one that should involve all the stakeholders.

In this space 13WHAM News intends to continue that dialogue.  We intend to offer as many perspectives as we can on the issue and we will be inviting those stakeholders to put forth their perspectives.

What should legislation look like?  How should advances in technology be addressed?  What, if any, protections and restrictions should be part of this legislation? (Ex: vulnerable witnesses or victims)  Where do your elected leaders stand on this issue?  What is it like in states that do allow cameras and other devices inside their courtrooms? 

At 13WHAM News we will use #OpenNYCourts to continue to report on our attempts to get you information and gain more access to the courtroom or court records.  If someone stands in the way of that information, well name them.  Well also invite them to offer you reasons (legal or otherwise) why access is being restricted.

We hope to explore this issue in-depth and invite you to participate.  You can join the conversation in the comments section below and on Twitter by following:  #OpenNYCourts

We invite our friends and competitors in the media to share their experiences with courtroom access too.

These are YOUR courtrooms, and as Justice Holmes once said, "every citizen should be able to satisfy himself with his own eyes as to the mode in which a public duty is performed."

---Sean Carroll

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