Cameras in the Courtroom: The Big Debate Addressed by David Lat

I attended “An Evening with David Lat”, an event that addressed Mr. Lat’s newly released novel, Supreme Ambitions, a fictional tale based on the rise of a California clerk who dreams of working for the U.S. Supreme Court. David Lat is the founder and managing editor of Above the Law, an award-winning legal blog that attracts more than 1 million unique visitors each month. During the event, Mr. Lat spoke in-depth about Supreme Ambitions. It made for very interesting discussion; however, the Q & A session at the end of the evening was the most stimulating.

One question that caught my attention was the controversial debate regarding the use of cameras in the courtroom. Mr. Lat’s response: Go for it!

Though the federal court system is largely against filming in courtrooms, all 50 states have permitted the use of cameras and recording equipment. It can be argued that a courtroom is no place for cameras and media because it destroys the sanctity of a long-lasting tradition, but Mr. Lat disagrees. He believes that having access to all trials would create greater transparency in the judicial system, which would serve as a means for educating the public on how trials actually work. Instead of relying on shows with largely fabricated versions of courtroom proceedings, like “How to Get Away with Murder”, we could tune in to a real-life trial.

On the other hand, there are many who worry about the protection of witnesses and juries during sensitive cases. Luckily, there are already solutions set in motion for this problem. Ted Poe, Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, presided as a federal judge over many cases, many of which were highly sensitive. He established rules with the media beforehand regarding confidentiality and requested that no children, jury members or sensitive witnesses be filmed. Mr. Poe has received favorable remarks regarding camera use from the beginning, and has successfully aired an entire capital murder trial on Court TV.

Others might claim that individuals or groups with a secret agenda could disrupt the court with personal advancements. Mr. Lat believes this could be easily resolved with the use of greater security in courtrooms during high profile cases.

Whether we will soon be viewing federal court trials with the same ease we view “Law and Order” is unclear. However, the benefits seem to outweigh the disadvantages, and I would be surprised if federal courts did not budge on the matter. Stay tuned…

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