Webcasting allowed in 3 Lake County courtrooms

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The Indiana Supreme Court has announced a new 18-month pilot project allowing trial court proceedings to be webcast in three Lake County courtrooms.

Three civil judges – Circuit Judge George Paras and Superior Judges John Pera and Calvin Hawkins – have agreed to participate. The webcasting proposal was submitted in May 2009 by the Times of Northwest Indiana and now-retired Lake Circuit Judge Lorenzo Arredondo, who was Paras’ predecessor.

Unlike a prior pilot project that allowed video and still cameras into eight trial courts throughout Indiana in 2006 and 2007, this project will eliminate most of the regular camera intrusion and won’t require litigant consent before the webcasting begins.

“What’s particularly intriguing is this reflects the dramatic changes we’ve seen in technology that allow people to see inside these trial court proceedings,” Chief Justice Randall Shepard said in announcing the project and signing the order Friday in the Indiana Supreme Court courtroom.

The proceedings won’t be broadcast live; they will have an expected delay of at least two hours before they appear on the NWI Times website for public viewing. The webcasts will only be available through the newspaper’s website.

The Supreme Court order prohibits the trial courts from webcasting cases involving police informants or undercover agents, children or child-related cases, sex-offense victims, attorney-client communications, bench conferences, jury selection, commitments, paternity, guardianship and adoptions, and no-contact orders. Jury trials may be webcast, but jurors can't be shown. Any other case before the trial courts that don’t fall under these prohibitions may be webcast at the judges’ discretion.

Litigants will be able to object to the webcasting, and the judge will be able to consider the objection at that time.

“Sometimes, the press and the courts conflict, but in order for our society to survive we need public access like this,” Paras said. “I’ve reviewed the Supreme Court order and I believe this protects both litigants and the press.”

Paras said the webcasting will begin in his court in the coming weeks once the technology is installed. Hawkins' and Pera’s courtrooms will be brought online after that. The three judges focus on civil proceedings, so at this time, no criminal proceedings will be broadcast. Criminal cases could be webcasted if the judges receive those cases and hear them in their courts, he said.

Some criminal court judges have voiced concerns about the webcasting, according to Paras, and they want to see how this materializes within the civil courts before deciding if they want to participate in the future.

Valparaiso University Law School students will monitor the project and evaluate participation as it proceeds, with students interviewing and questioning jurors, witnesses and attorneys as part of their pro bono requirement to graduate. Media law professors will oversee their work, and at the end of the 18-month project, a final report will be submitted to the Supreme Court for consideration.

NWI Times Managing Editor Paul Mullaney said he hopes this not only allows for public education about the judiciary, but that it also serves as a springboard for a standardized filming process in state trial courts.

Hoosier State Press Association legal counsel Steve Key attended the announcement and complimented the court’s action.

“We’ve reached a point now where cameras are so small that they won’t interfere with the courts delivering justice,” he said. “The Supreme Court has always had an eye on increasing the public access and letting people know what the courts are doing, and this is an extension of that.”

Justice Brent Dickson dissented from his colleagues, writing that his objections mirror the ones he had for the first pilot project in 2006. At the time, Dickson joined Justice Robert Rucker in writing that the camera process was too intrusive for courts and litigants and that lawyers could play to the cameras and influence the proceedings.

This webcast project doesn’t nullify other requests that have been submitted regarding cameras in court, including one in late 2009 from the Indiana Broadcasters Association that asked the justices to again allow cameras into trial courts statewides.



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