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.

9 Responses to “Why we won’t live-stream restraining order hearings”

  1. Patrick McCabe says:

    One of the biggest problems in our court today, the inappropriate use of RO’s and you want to hide it from the public?

    If these cases were broadcast it would be easier to complain about the judicial abuse.

    To add insult to injury you quote Justice Cordy, who has shown his complete contempt for families in the recent Adams case.

    Who gets to make the decision? Judges and lawyers, no surprise they don’t want to expose one of their biggest problems.

    • Joe Spurr says:

      Patrick, thanks for your input.

      On the contrary, we don’t wish to “hide” anything unless for a very good reason. Likewise, Judge Coven has been a staunch supporter of broadcasting restraining order proceedings. It’s a large part of the public service they provide and, we believe, important for the public to see.

      We have chosen to crawl before we walk, so to speak, by not broadcasting 209a proceedings at least at the outset of this project, based on concerns voiced from our high-level advisory group regarding potential issues of danger and privacy.

      This project is ongoing and our approaches will change based on the comfort level of all stakeholders. We are charged with protecting people’s right to protection under the law as we attempt to better serve the public’s right to know. We are being mindful of our advisors and cautious about affecting real people’s real lives.

      • Joe Ureneck says:

        I would suggest that your ‘high level advisory group’ does not include those who understand the very real problems created by implementing 209A’s. Otherwise there would be no question that they should be broadcast.

    • Rocky says:

      I agree with patrick Restraining Orders or Injuctions as they are refered to here in Florida. Do not need to go through the same judicial process as criminal cases. These allegations are rampant in our court systems and do not need to meet the burden of proof as a criminal case should. Yet once convicted of a DV or RO you are treated as a criminal by employers, friends and relatives. why not allow these to be shown. Except in cases of rape or if the judge finds good reason.

      Domestic Violence Injunction’s (Referred to as DVI’s) have been formulated to remove due process from the court room and allows for very serious consequences if violated prior to or after a DVI has been entered. In many cases women are using new strict laws (Violence Against Women Act or VAWA) as a tool to get an upper hand in a divorce, custody battle, or simply as a form of revenge in a relationship gone sour.

      • Abigail Adams says:

        “In many cases women are using new strict laws (Violence Against Women Act or VAWA) as a tool to get an upper hand in a divorce, custody battle, or simply as a form of revenge in a relationship gone sour.”

        Where in the world did you get this information? From your imagination? Do you have any evidence of this? Your contempt for women is on display here for all to see.

        • Joe Ureneck says:

          Not from imagination, far from it unfortunately.

          Restraining orders are just the type of cases that should be accessible to the public so that the complete lack of due process rights and injustice faced by men and fathers can be witnessed.

  2. Ben Lampson says:

    THIS DESERVES TO BE POSTED AGAIN. I AM A MALE SURVIVER OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE. I WAS TREATED UNFAIRLY BY THE POLICE, JUDGES, AND COURTS. MY EXWIFE ABUSED ME AND THEN WOULD CALL THE POLICE AND HAVE ME ARRESTED AFTER I GAVE MY SIDE OF THE STORY (THE TRUTH). THIS ISSUE NEEDS TO BE ADDRESSED BY CONGRESS, THE POLICE, COURTS AND JUDGES.

    agree with patrick Restraining Orders or Injuctions as they are refered to here in Florida. Do not need to go through the same judicial process as criminal cases. These allegations are rampant in our court systems and do not need to meet the burden of proof as a criminal case should. Yet once convicted of a DV or RO you are treated as a criminal by employers, friends and relatives. why not allow these to be shown. Except in cases of rape or if the judge finds good reason.
    Domestic Violence Injunction’s (Referred to as DVI’s) have been formulated to remove due process from the court room and allows for very serious consequences if violated prior to or after a DVI has been entered. In many cases women are using new strict laws (Violence Against Women Act or VAWA) as a tool to get an upper hand in a divorce, custody battle, or simply as a form of revenge in a relationship gone sour.

  3. Patrick McCabe says:

    Mr. Spur,

    I was hoping you could clarify what exactly WBUR’s position is.

    You claim that Judge Coven supports streaming the RO hearings, yet in another place on this site it is claimed or implied, that it was the court that chose not to stream them.

    It is claimed on this site that the advisory board supported streaming the RO hearings, and now you state that WBUR does not want to stream them.

    If it is WBUR that is against streaming RO hearings what are those reasons. I have not seen them articulated yet, is there a reason for the secrecy?

  4. James says:

    Any updates on this? According to Mass law I’m reading you should be able to get audio now.

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