Thursday, January 7, 2010

Proposition 8 Trial to be Made Available on YouTube

In California, Courts continue to hear challenges to Proposition 8. Next week, the U.S. District Court in San Francisco is scheduled to hear this latest challenge; however, a new twist has been added to this hearing. The trial will not be broadcast on television, but Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker ordered that the hearing be recorded and made available on YouTube.

This is the first time a federal court in California has issued such an order, and this order has given rise to further controversy. Primarily, attorneys for the sponsors of Proposition 8 fear that allowing people outside the courtroom to view the trial will intimidate witnesses. It is already alleged that some supporters of Proposition 8 are being subjected to harassment, and it is feared that any witness that testifies in favor of the measure will be forced to endure the same. Even with the Judge’s discretion to hide witness faces or alter voices on the YouTube posting, attorneys for these supporters fear their witnesses will be subject to intimidation.

However, the Judge reasoned that this issue is of such wide interest to be ideal for the Court’s pilot program of posting such trials. Additionally, most of the witnesses will be campaign officials or academic experts accustomed to speaking in public. Attorneys for the couple challenging the measure feel that court records and proceedings should be public property, and as such support the videotaping of the trial.

The idea of providing video coverage, either live streaming or later posting to a site such as YouTube, is exciting in that people who are interested can actually see what is happening instead of just having to read accounts from people on hand. While television coverage has been available for other courts in the past, it is rare for a federal court to allow viewing of the proceedings. With programs such as this in San Francisco, the mystery surrounding these proceedings can now be exposed, allowing the public to truly understand what is happening in cases of interest such as this.

However, when broadcasting these trials, there is always the interests of the witnesses that need to be protected. It is of no surprise that witnesses supporting Proposition 8 are fearful of harassment based on their testimony. With the use of video broadcasting, even more people will be aware of who these supporters are, leading to greater potential for harassment. Blurring faces or distorting voices will not solve the problem 100% either; viewers will still be able to associate witness names with their actual testimony. As such, it is necessary that issues such as these be considered when deciding whether to allow outside viewing of a trial.

In the end though, the benefits of posting video of this trial seem to outweigh the negatives. There is no doubt that this is an issue of great public interest. Also, with the majority of witnesses being accustomed to public speaking, the addition of video cameras in the courtroom should not be as distracting to them. While there may be some additional harassment of witnesses supporting Proposition 8, it is presumed that much of this trial and the proceedings will be made public record, with or without video of the trial; the addition of video will merely facilitate access to this information that will already be available in the court records.

For the full article from the San Francisco Chronicle, click here.

The trial will commence Monday; once video of the trial is available, it will be found here.

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