Trials • New rule allows video cameras, eases restrictions on cellphones and other devices.
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Television cameras can begin rolling in Utah courtrooms next spring.
In a decision Utah Supreme Court Justice Jill Parrish said was aimed at "moving us into the next era," the Utah Judicial Council voted Monday to allow audio and video recordings of trial court proceedings.
"This rule change is going to substantially open the courts," said spokeswoman Nancy Volmer. "And our hope is that by giving the public the access to the courts this way they'll better understand how courts operate."
Monday's vote was 9-3, with a trio of district court judges 2nd District Judge Glen Dawson, 3rd District Judge Paul Maughan and 4th District Judge David Mortensen siding against the rule changes.
Maughan said he thought the rule, which presumes recording of a hearing should be allowed, limited a judge's control of the courtroom.
"Part of the concern is the trial judge is free to control his or her courtroom in all situations except when a TV camera wants to be there, at which point a judge abdicates to the media," Maughan said. "It's like you're taking away the control of the courtroom at the whim of the media."
"I have no fear of that," Justice Court Judge Reed Parkin said of the rule. "I think the public's business is public."
The rule, however, does give judges the ability to deny access with cause.
"Some judges have concerns about allowing video cameras in the courtroom," Volmer said. "It is a major shift for the courts. But, ultimately, the judge does have the authority to not allow them. If there's a case involving children, or witnesses or gang-related matters, they may decide not to allow cameras."
Cameras will also be kept out of a judge's chambers.
Utah was one of 15 states that did not allow television news cameras to record trial court proceedings. The state now joins 19 others in allowing video and audio recording of criminal and civil cases at the trial level.
Currently in the trial courts, a single still photographer is allowed to photograph a hearing with a judge's approval. Restrictions can also be made regarding whether a photographer can take pictures of jurors, witnesses, exhibits or the judge. News organizations then share the photographs.
In the appellate courts, still photography and video are allowed with permission.
The proposed rule changes would follow a format nearly identical to what is now used for still photography.
Salt Lake City defense attorney Clayton Simms said the cameras could upset victims, but doubted the new rule would impact proceedings.
"It won't be revolutionary, because everything is public record already," said Simms, pointing out that 3rd District courts used to make audio and video recordings of hearings before budget cuts reduced the practice to audio only. "Things that are said are already being recorded."
Monday's vote also changed the courts' rule regarding portable electronic devices. Laptops, tablets and cellphones will now be allowed in courtrooms unless a judge says otherwise.
"The council has recognized this is an electronic age," Volmer said, "and people need their cellphones and laptops to stay in touch with their companies and their families."