Courts Want Comment on Transparency Proposals

By Anne Lowe

OPEN COURTS – The Judicial Council of California is inviting the public to comment on a proposal that would increase news media access to court proceedings and records.

The Bench-Bar-Media Committee, which was created in 2008 by Chief Justice Ronald M. George, created a list of recommendations for the Judicial Council to adopt that would “foster improved understanding and working relationships among California judges, lawyers and journalists,” a news release from the Judicial Council says. These recommendations are open for public comment until 5 p.m. on Oct. 29 on the council’s website.

 Highlights of the recommendations:

  • Cameras in Court: Amend rule 1.150 of the California Rules of Court to provide an explicit presumption that cameras and other recording devices are allowed in the courtroom unless sufficient reasons exist to prohibit or limit their use. The recommendation also calls for judges to make specific findings to prohibit or limit the use of cameras and other recording devices.
  • Gag Orders: Adopt a uniform statewide rule similar to those governing orders sealing records and consistent with the opinion in Hurvitz v. Hoefflin (2000) 84 Cal.App.4th 1232. That ruling, among other things, requires a specific finding of a legitimate competing interest that overrides the public’s right of access and justifies some form of gag order. The ruling also limits the scope of any gag order to the narrowest restraint and shortest time period necessary to protect the identified overriding interest.
  • Orders Sealing Records: Develop a rule of court that requires all courts to post notice of any application for, or entry of, an order sealing a record on their local websites within five court business days after filing or entry. If that is not possible, the proposed rule would require that such a notice be sent to the Judicial Council for publication on the judicial branch’s website within the same five court business days required for posting online.
  • Educational Programs: Support creation of educational content and programs to enhance relationships and cross-communication among the bench, bar, media, court staff, and public.
  • Judicial Officer Training: Develop training for judges and justices on how to present the meaning or substance of court decisions in a way that can be easily understood by the media and the public.
  • The Bench-Bar-Media Committee also drafted proposals to address the need to explain legal terminology to the public and media; create online training materials for court staff and judges; develop regional media access plans; and make regional public information officers available to assist the courts.

Once the invitation to comment is closed, the committee is expected to hold its final meeting in early December to review the public’s input. A final report will be issued to the Judicial Council in spring 2011.

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