Thursday, March 12, 2009

Live Blogging in the Courtroom

Last week, Campbell County Circuit Court Judge Julie Reinhardt Ward issued an order preventing anybody from bringing electronic devices into the courtroom. While this in itself is not unique, the fact that one of the Judge’s aims in issuing this order was to prevent live blogging from the courtroom is. Due to this order, several news outlets challenged this ruling in the Kentucky Court of Appeals; this may be the first time the issue of live blogging within a Kentucky courtroom has been the subject of such an appeal, and as such this ruling may set a precedent for how other Kentucky courts deal with the issue in the future.

In both Ohio and Kentucky, judges are permitted to set the rules for their courtrooms as to what people can and cannot bring to an active trial. Most judges appear to be concerned about distractions that may be caused by cameras, gum chewing and other items that may take the jury’s attention away from the trial. In federal courtrooms, electronic devices cannot be brought past their security checkpoint at the entrance to the building.

Due to the immediacy of courtroom blogging, some judges are worried that a witness’ testimony could be tainted based on what they read on-line. Judge Ward stated she was also worried about these blogs tainting the jury, even though jury members are prohibited from watching media coverage. In order to prevent such influence, she placed the ban on live blogging in order to allow only portions of the testimony to be shown.

Over a decade ago, courts showed similar resistance to the broadcast of live trials on stations such as Court TV. At first, especially after the O.J. Simpson trial, courts were reluctant to allow television cameras into their courtroom. Outside of a few states, these cameras are very rarely banned today. According to a former senior on-air correspondent, “Ohio and Kentucky courts have been easy to deal with.”

Blogging in the courtroom is a relatively new aspect of reporting. As such, there are no set rules stating what can and cannot be blogged. Because of this lack of guidelines, it is most likely that judges are overprotecting to ensure the jury and witnesses are not improperly influenced. Until such rules are set, it seems to be in the best interest of ensuring justice and avoiding improper influence that judges do this. With this being said, it is more than likely that, just like Court TV cameras in the courtroom, live blogging will become commonplace at future trials. Although the media outlets lost their appeal in this case, it is my belief that once a balance is worked out between interests of justice and the availability of information, live blogging will serve as a valuable tool for those wishing to find trial information easily and efficiently.

For the article from the Cincinnati Enquirer, click here.

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