Tuesday, August 16, 2011

PA Supreme Court Arguments to be Televised

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has announced that it will permit broadcasting proceedings, gavel-to-gavel broadcasting of court proceedings on the Pennsylvania Cable Network, according to The Legal Intelligencer.

The decision culminates years of discussion and debate spilling from the tenure of former Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy, and will allow more than three million homes, or about 10 million people, in the state to view oral arguments starting next month, the high court announced in a press release.

"My colleagues and I are pleased to open our courtroom to PCN's statewide audience so they can see how our court operates and follow arguments in cases affecting every citizen of Pennsylvania," Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille told The Intelligencer.

The policy comes with a number of exceptions and stipulations, which are detailed in an internal operating rule attached to the per curiam order issuing the decision. For example, sealed cases will not be covered, and the justices may also limit or end coverage in order to protect the rights of parties involved. Additionally, the broadcasts, which will not be aired live, may not pick up audio of discussions among co-counsel or the justices.

In an interview with The Intelligencer, Castille said the issue of televising proceedings became a less narrow debate with the changing "composition of the court" as new justices were elected.

Although the state's judicial system has come under scrutiny lately, Castille said the prospect of "civic education" was the impetus that successfully brought the camera to the court, reported The Intelligencer.

"These are real cases that have pretty wide-ranging consequences," Castille said. "The impetus wasn't anything that happened in any state court; the impetus was a desire to educate the public about what the state courts do."

And while some cases will require PCN's viewers to be armed with "a strong cup of coffee" Castille said it was imperative the proceedings be aired gavel-to-gavel so that viewers get the "full flavor of the court."

"It's not the fake judges they have on TV," Castille said. "These are real cases. They involve real people. And some of the issues are pretty profound, even of life and death."

According to PCN President Brian Lockman, the network will utilize three robotic cameras, all from outside of the courtroom. One camera will be stationed in the back of the courtroom -- a wide angle shot on the seven justices. The other two cameras will give viewers close-ups of the lawyers arguing and the justice who responds.

"You do things a certain way for 300 years and then along comes a way to change it, so naturally you want to think about it for a while," Lockman told The Intelligencer.

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