Tag Archives: Supreme Court of the United States

Judges have ‘great deal of discretion’ in allowing cameras to roll in court

There are no guarantees when it comes to letting a camera roll inside a Washington state court.

I had mentioned on an earlier blog that most every time I’d been in our local courts and requests to film — generally made by the TV news networks — had almost always been granted.

At times, a judge will ask the TV stations to “pool” their filming, which is a way of saying that one camera would be allowed in court and that station would have to share its footage with others seeking it.

A “John Doe” had commented on the previous blog that he doubted courts would be so open to filming. So I decided to go to a judge to get some answers.

In short, judges can be choosy about who they allow to film — and they can say no for various reasons, reports Bremerton Municipal Court Judge James Docter.

Here’s Judge Docter’s take:

“There is a court rule that addresses filming court hearings. It is GR-16. The rule specifically addresses media filming, rather than filming by the public. There are many articles and some cases on the subject of filming in the courtroom, but most of them relate to the media. So the subject you raise is not clear cut.

Generally, a member of the public would need court permission before filming. The judge has a great deal of discretion when deciding whether to grant a request to film, and would need information about the request. In particular, we would want to know what is the purpose for the filming, and to whom will it be published? We would prohibit any filming intended to embarass, harass, intimidate, threaten, torment or humiliate or unreasonably expose others. We would want to know who is going to be filmed, and we would allow them a chance to object. We would need to make sure the filming did not disrupt the court proceedings. I doubt we would allow it “just for the fun of it”. Perhaps if it were for a school project or a documentary we might allow it.

Filming might be justified for certain purposes, so the judge would review the request on a case by case basis, after hearing from those involved. Then the judge would make a ruling, and either allow it or prohibit it. So long as there is a good basis for his/her ruling, I’m confident the judge’s decision would be upheld by the higher court(s).”

Judge Docter has served as Bremerton’s judge since 1997. 

Is the U.S. Supreme Court due for a camera in its courtroom?

 Judges have been open to the prospect of having cameras in court in just about every situation I’ve encountered in our local court system.  As you ascend to the higher courts, the access is just as good — indeed, the Washington State Supreme Court is often broadcasted on TVW, the state’s cable network.

But there’s a ceiling to that access: the U.S. Supreme Court.

Something that surprises me is that no cameras have ever been allowed into the chambers of the highest court in the land, even despite the court’s limited seating. That means less access to witness the oral arguments concerning many of the most important issues of our time.

In the New York Times on Sunday, Kenneth W. Starr — who you may recall from his days as special prosecutor investigating a few alleged indiscretions of President Bill Clinton — called for the high court to finally allow cameras.

” … There is no reason the public should be denied access to their consideration of and arguments about urgent questions — from global warming to health care — that affect us all,” he wrote in the Times. “Cameras in the courtroom of the United States Supreme Court are long overdue.”

Critics, some of them on the court itself, have argued the justices could begin jockeying for sound bytes to generate publicity. But as Starr points out, you can already get the audio recordings of the court sessions.

Would you support opening the supreme court to cameras? And if so, why?


Retiring Justice Stevens: ‘Poulsbo is a Postcard on the Water’

It’s quite the rarity when a justice of the Supreme Court of the United States makes the trek to a town such as Poulsbo.

But in 1985 and for the benefit of, among other things, the small town lawyer, Justice John Paul Stevens and his wife, Maryan, came to Poulsbo.

Stevens, who last week announced his retirement from the high court after serving the fourth longest term in its history, was invited to come by a group of nine Poulsbo attorneys who comprised what they called the Poulsbo Bar Association.

It was a shot in the dark, recalls Jeff Tolman, of longtime Poulsbo firm Tolman and Kirk. But after some letters of correspondence, Stevens agreed to come, Tolman said.

The lawyers invited Stevens to receive their “Small Town Lawyer Made Good,” award. Though Stevens cut his teeth as an attorney in not-small Chicago, the cadre of Poulsbo lawyers gave the award to either:

* a small town lawyer, or

* Supreme Court justices

From the St. Petersburg Times

And so the bow-tied, horn rimmed justice flew to Seattle with his wife, and Tolman, his law partner Mike Kirk, and now-Kitsap County Superior Court Judge Jay Roof went to the airport to pick him up. There was no security — they drove a suburban and whisked him to Big Valley Road for a stay at Manor Farm.

Roof recalled Stevens as being a “very gracious man,” who was “willing to come out to the hinterlands.”

“He seemed to be the type of person that could understand justice could occur in rural areas,” Roof said.

They took Stevens for a sailboat ride on Puget Sound before Stevens received the award before a packed 300-room Sons of Norway hall.

Justice Stevens said he’d expected a town that was drying up and empty, Tolman recalled. Instead, he said that “Poulsbo is a postcard on the water.” It was a well received remark.

“If you wanna show small town lawyers in country you value them,” Tolman said of Stevens’ appearance, “What a wonderful way to do it.”

Tolman added that only about three years later, the same award was given to Justice Antonin Scalia, who also came to Poulsbo.

Stevens’ empathy for the rule of law in more rural areas has been mentioned in stories of his retirement. The New York Times asked some of Stevens’ former clerks to describe the 89-year-old justice. Eduardo M. Penalver, a professor at Cornell Law School who was Stevens’ clerk from 2000 to 2001, remembered the Poulsbo award. Here’s an excerpt from the Times’ article:

“During my clerkship interview with Justice Stevens, we talked about our hometowns. When I mentioned that I had grown up in a small town near Seattle, he leapt from his chair and pulled a plaque off the wall. It read: “Small Town Lawyer of the Year: Associate Justice John Paul Stevens.” It had been given to him a few years before by the bar association of Poulsbo, Wash.

At the time, I was puzzled that the award was so meaningful to him. I shouldn’t have been. Although Justice Stevens has always practiced law at the highest levels of the profession, his modesty would make him feel right at home in a place like Poulsbo. He may not have actually been a small town lawyer, but he was definitely a kindred spirit.”