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Archive for Friday, February 17, 2012

Federal court camera experiment begins

February 17, 2012

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— A pilot project to study the impact of cameras in federal courthouses began this week in Topeka with the recording of a civil case concerning water use in Douglas County.

Four video cameras focused on the witness stand, the lectern where lawyers ask questions, the judge’s bench and a desk where evidence is displayed during the proceedings Thursday. The courtroom deputy, Pam Patton, controlled the zoom and changed the court angle under the judge’s direction from her desk in front of the judge’s bench.

The proceedings were not streamed live but could be viewed online a few hours after the hearing. Viewers can see all four screens simultaneously.

The judge in the water case, U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson, is chairwoman of the Court Administration and Case Management Committee, which is running the three-year pilot involving more than 100 U.S. District Court judges. In Kansas, District Court Judges Kathryn Vratil, J. Thomas Marten, Carlos Murguia, Eric Melgren and Robinson are taking part.

Civil bench and jury trials, as well as civil motions hearings will be recorded and available online for viewing or downloading under the project approved by the Judicial Conference of the United States in March 2011.

In the case before the court Thursday, a rural water district sued the city of Eudora over the city’s 2007 annexation of part of the water district, alleging federal statutes protected the district from the city’s annexation.

The attorneys, Curtis Tideman and Steven Harris, said the cameras had no effect on how they argued the case.

“It didn’t make any difference to me,” said Tideman, an Overland Park attorney. “I forgot about it once I started arguing.”

“They wanted to study the system, and that was OK with me,” said Steven Harris, a Tulsa, Okla., attorney.

Robinson didn’t make a ruling Thursday.

The camera project has ground rules, including:

• Only civil cases will be videotaped because a federal rule prohibits criminal cases from being photographed;

• The plaintiff, defendant and judge must agree to the videotaping;

• The camera can be turned off if a witness is concerned about being videotaped;

• No still photographs will be shot:

• Only court employees will operate the cameras;

• Jury selection won’t be videotaped because sensitive information about prospective jurors could emerge.

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