Nebraska state courts to allow cameras in most proceedings and trials

Starting today.  This is a very interesting development for a few reasons.  First, it appears to apply to both criminal and civil cases, with exceptions made only for highly sensitive proceedings like juvenile and family cases, criminal pretrial motions, grand jury hearings, probate matters, and trade secret disputes.  Second, it is being permitted by state supreme court rule rather than legislation.  Third, the cameras will be operated by  external media outlets, who may edit the materials as they see fit (although they are cautioned to edit wisely).

I have long been an advocate of the educational and cognitive benefits of broadcasting courtroom proceedings, and was disappointed when the federal pilot project for recording selected civil proceedings was terminated in 2015.  Nebraska’s new policy is much more expansive than the federal pilot, and does pose a certain risk that courtroom events will be unfairly or improperly presented, that off-limits personnel (like jurors) will be shown, or that witnesses or lawyers will play to the cameras.  But I think the risk is minimal. 

By treating the local media as a dignified partner in educating the public about courtroom activity, rather than a cause for suspicion or district, the Nebraska courts appear to have created a culture of responsible cooperation between the courts and the press.  Certainly the carefully crafted policy and extensive training videos send that message.

It’s a praiseworthy development, and one worth watching closely.

 

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