WGN TV posted a story last week that is likely of interest to our fellow Chicago medical malpractice attorneys. Beginning this year, a few federal civil trial courtrooms will begin videotaping all proceedings. The cameras have already been installed and are set to go. The project is part of a three year pilot program that was approved by the Judicial Conference of the United States. As part of the agreement fourteen different districts across the country will participate. However, Chicago’s federal system hub at the Dirksen Federal Building is the largest of all the participants.
As of right now the program will only apply to a select number of civil trial courtrooms. There will be three static cameras in each courtroom. One will face the witness box, another will tape the judge’s bench, and the third will focus on the podium where the lawyer addresses the court. The jury will never be seen, and the judge will be free to have his or her face shielded if they choose. In addition, unlike in other places involved in the pilot project, the Chicago video feed will not be streamed live online. Instead, all recordings will be saved on a network. It is only later that they will be available for public viewing on the Northern District’s website. This time delay will allow for editing if necessary. According to the report, the judge will have the final say in whether or not any particular aspect of the trial is edited out before becoming available to the public. A federal court clerk familiar with the process noted that, depending on how the trial project goes, cameras may eventually be streamed live. Criminal courtrooms could also one day be added.
Of course, all local medical malpractice lawyers know that debates over taping court proceedings are nothing new. Many have called for the televising of trials and appellate proceedings since as long as the technology has been available to do so. However, there has always been some push-back from those on the bench who feel uneasy about the potential effects.
However, in the areas where the cameras have already been used, little disruption has so far been seen. Comparatively, cameras are more likely to be found in appellate courtrooms at the state level instead of trial courts, with a few notable exceptions (the O.J. Simpson criminal trial). Many have argued that placing cameras in trial rooms and allowing the public to view them is much more important than televising or streaming over the internet appellate debates. Appellate arguments are all about deciding law, with much of the arguing often concerning somewhat esoteric issues that are of less interest to the general public. Conversely, the fact-finding mission of juries in civil and criminal trials is something that is readily assessable to most community members. After all, everyone may be asked at one time or another to sit on a jury themselves.
Many medical malpractice attorneys, criminal defense lawyers, and other practitioners have also argued that allowing the public to view these processes is an important educational exercise that can improve appreciation of our justice system. Particularly in high-profile cases, there is often immense public dissatisfaction with the outcome of a case. Some of that dissatisfaction can be traced back to the public only hearing a verdict and not being able to follow along with the actual arguments and evidence that have been prevented. Allowing live access to these trials can go a long way in educating the public about what actually goes on in these medical malpractice trials and how the jury system actually works.
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