Legal Reference



September 16, 2008 - 6:57PM

Updated: September 16, 2008 - 7:34PM

Court: Judges must give reason to ban cameras

Howard Fischer, Capitol Media Services

Ignoring some objections, the state's high court on Tuesday enacted new rules designed to make it harder for judges to keep newspaper and TV cameras out of their courtrooms.

The Arizona Supreme Court adopted a proposal by Phoenix television station KPNX-TV (Channel 12) to require judges who don't want cameras to spell out exactly why, and do it on the record. It also means that, for the first time, a media outlet denied the right to photograph can appeal the decision to a higher court.

Attorney David Bodney said the change, which is effective at the beginning of next year, will affect superior courts, where some judges have been reticent to allow TV coverage, and should also override the blanket rules that exist in some city magistrate and justice courts that ban photography outright.

Bodney said that occurred Tuesday when Scottsdale City Magistrate Wendy Morton refused to allow cameras inside her courtroom, where officials of a Scottsdale hospital are going on trial after being accused of failing to report rapes of patients in their care. He said the judge told reporters there was a "standard prohibition" on cameras in city courts.

Under the new rule, all judges now will have to make specific, on-the-record findings of why they believe there is a "likelihood of harm" if cameras are allowed in court.

The current rules, written in 1993, allow both still and video photography in courtrooms. But they give judges absolute authority to decide when they believe that cameras would be detrimental to a fair trial, affect witnesses or "detract from the dignity of the proceedings."

And there is nothing that requires a judge to explain the decision - and no one to review it. The new rule retains the list of issues a judge may consider when weighing camera coverage, with the additional requirement of having to explain the decision.

Several judges asked the high court not to approve the proposal.