Why we won’t live-stream restraining order hearings
I wrote a post for the PBS MediaShift blog about our recent meetings with stakeholders both local and high-level to decide when, if ever, to turn off the live-stream.
So this question of when to keep the camera on and when to turn it off is a complicated one that involves balancing transparency with privacy. It has provoked more controversy than any other question that we’ve posed.
We met with the local group in Quincy District Court first. We first ruled out certain proceedings from live-streaming: any cases involving minors or the victims of sexual abuse or assault; and any part of the voir dire or jury empanelment hearings. We also won’t be showing the faces of jurors.
Then came the cases that are up to the judge’s discretion. First Justice Mark Coven reiterated that all proceedings were free to be live-streamed but that he would be willing to consider turning off the camera on a case-by-case basis. If a lawyer or advocate has good reason to object to a proceeding being filmed, he or she may file a motion. Judge Coven has said he doesn’t want to scare women off from applying for a restraining order.
The local group was actually more willing to show sensitive cases than the high-level group.
When we put the same issues before our advisory board, they came up with the opposite answer to the question about restraining order hearings.
We presented one of the arguments for showing the restraining order proceedings that had come out of our local meetings: the idea that a domestic violence victim watching at home might see the process and understand that she (or he) could come down to the court to apply for one themselves.
The representative of the Massachusetts Bar Association disagreed with this, saying that there are better ways to educate the public and that showing the proceedings could both expose the victim to more physical danger and public humiliation as well as permanently damage the reputation of those who have restraining orders filed against them that are eventually denied.
The head of the D.A.’s Victim Witness Services department concurred, saying that this project “can’t afford a body.”
Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Justice Robert Cordy also agreed, saying that family issues are too sensitive and too fraught with peril to live-stream, at least at the beginning stages of our project.
The only objection came from a Boston University law professor and former ACLU counsel who said that if reporters are allowed into the courtroom, then our cameras should be too. (He also made the disclaimer that as an academic he doesn’t really have a dog in the race.)
These comments drove home to us the seriousness of our project and the impact it might have on people’s lives. We want to proceed carefully.
To read about the guidelines we finally settled on, please go here.