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Fate of courtroom cameras still unknown

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The federal judge vying to become the next justice on the U.S. Supreme Court favors having cameras in court and says she might be interested in furthering their use at the nation's highest court that has resisted the idea for decades.

During her second day of confirmation hearings Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee, 2nd Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor responded to a senator's question about cameras in the courtroom by saying she's participated and volunteered to have cameras in the courtroom, and has had a positive experience allowing the access. While she would listen to all arguments from her Supreme Court colleagues on that procedure if confirmed, she also hinted that she might be a persuasive new voice on the topic.

But even with that hint of change, the Hoosier legal community continues waiting on word from the state's justices about whether a pilot project for cameras in Indiana trial courts will continue. While arguments are broadcast online for the two appellate courts, the trial level has generally been off limits up until the court decided to investigate a change in that procedure.

Justices have been considering the issue for 16 months, since a report was submitted for review to determine what may be in store for Indiana's trial courts as far as camera accessibility. The appellate docket for Pilot Project for Electronic News Coverage in Indiana Trial Courts, No. 94S00-0605-MS-00166, shows no activity since March 27, 2008.

At that time, the Indiana Broadcasters Association and Hoosier State Press Association submitted a final evaluation and summary of the pilot project that lasted from July 1, 2006, to Dec. 31, 2007. The report showed the 18-month process was positive based on those recordings but overall disappointing, since only six proceedings were filmed in eight different courtrooms scattered throughout the state. Evaluators noted that the state's consent rules hindered the tapings, and to improve the process the Indiana Supreme Court could modify that to allow media to record proceedings with only the approval of participating judges, rather than all of the parties involved in a case.

Court spokeswoman Kathryn Dolan told Indiana Lawyer today that the court is still considering the issue and hasn't made a decision.

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