In May 2011, Government Technology reported on a pilot project in Quincy District Court in Massachusetts to stream live video of court proceedings as part of a pilot that’s attempting to bring more transparency into the state’s judicial system.
The initiative, called OpenCourt, ran into difficulty shortly thereafter in a case of a teenager forced into prostitution. The district attorney, according to a Boston Globe article, wanted no online archive of the accused's hearing, since personal information related to the girl was divulged. One of the attorneys working the case accidentally said the name of the alleged victim when the cameras were rolling.
Last week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that OpenCourt may take video of court proceedings, post them on its website and archive them without permission. The Supreme Judicial Court lifted an order banning footage from the teen prostitution case from being posted on the OpenCourt.us website.
Jeff Hermes, director of the Digital Media Law Project at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society and advisory board member for the OpenCourt project, told WBUR-Boston last week that the ruling clarifies the standards and rules through which media have access to criminal cases heard in court, Hermes said. The ruling means that courts can prevent video cameras from rolling in court, Hermes said, but once a judge allows a camera to run, the media outlet can’t be stopped from releasing that information.
In a press release, the Supreme Judicial Court said the new rule recognizes "the changes in technology and journalism since the original rule was promulgated." Among the major changes are that the definition of the news media includes citizen journalists — presumably bloggers and others — and that they can use laptops and electronic communications as long as they aren’t disruptive to the proceedings, but must register with the court and prove they meet the media definition. Permitted equipment for media other than broadcast television and still photographers includes one video and one still camera, and a second video camera is allowed if it is silent.
Judges may still limit exposure of minors or sexual assault victims to media. “Ultimately, the presiding judge will decide what can and can’t be shot, and he or she will have control from the bench to toggle the live video stream,” according to OpenCourt’s website.
The project is run by Boston public radio station WBUR in cooperation with the Quincy District Court and Supreme Judicial Court. WBUR received a $250,000 grant by winning the Knight News Challenge, a competition through the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The project was originally named Order in the Court 2.0.