Mission Statement

OpenCourt is a pilot project that will experiment with how digital technologies can foster the openness of the American courts with the idea that more transparent courts make for a stronger democracy.

By live-streaming video of court proceedings and setting up a WiFi network for use by journalists and bloggers, OpenCourt will provide full multimedia access to Quincy District Court just south of Boston.

Along with bringing the court online, the long-term goal of OpenCourt is to use our experience in the Quincy District Court to help courts around the country implement technologies and craft digital media policies. To this end, we will be documenting the step-by-step process of wiring the court and creating a forum where those interested in government transparency, the law and technology can connect.

This project is being run by WBUR, Boston’s NPR news station, and funded by the Knight News Challenge.

OpenCourt Guidelines

Guiding Principle

OpenCourt is operating with the cooperation of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and we have worked with the court, a group of local stakeholders, our advisory board, and the Cyberlaw Clinic of Harvard Law School to craft a preliminary set of policies to guide the project. As this is a pilot project, we will adapt the policies as we gain more practical experience in the courtroom.

The guiding principle of the project is that justice is to be administered in public and that our live video stream and public archive are extensions of this principle. However, we recognize that there are exceptions to this rule and there are times when the live stream should go offline. These guidelines aim to define these exceptions.

Guidelines for when OpenCourt is online

  1. The video stream will only be live when there is a judge presiding in the courtroom. Clerk-run sessions will not be broadcast.
  2. An OpenCourt producer will be present at all times when the video is live streaming.
  3. The judge is responsible for controlling whether the video stream is online or offline.
  4. The judge will have a computer that mirrors the live-streaming website and will have the ability to toggle the stream on and off.

Guidelines for when OpenCourt should go offline

(A) Mandatory Closed Proceedings

As prohibited by Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (S.J.C.) Rule 1:19

The right to permit cameras in the courtroom in the state of Massachusetts is outlined in S.J.C. Rule 1:19, the state “Cameras in the Courtrooms” statute. The rule gives judges broad latitude to decide what proceedings they want to broadcast in their court. It does bans from broadcast several types of judicial proceedings:

“A judge shall permit broadcasting, televising, electronic recording, or taking photographs of proceedings open to the public in the courtroom by the news media for news gathering purposes and dissemination of information to the public, subject, however, to the following limitations:

(a) A judge may limit or temporarily suspend such news media coverage, if it appears that such coverage will create a substantial likelihood of harm to any person or other serious harmful consequence.

(b) A judge should not permit broadcasting, televising, electronic recording, or taking photographs of hearings of motions to suppress or to dismiss or of probable cause or voir dire hearings.

(c) During the conduct of a jury trial, a judge should not permit recording or close-up photographing or televising of bench conferences, conferences between counsel, or conferences between counsel and client. Frontal and close-up photography of the jury panel should not usually be permitted.

Restraining order hearings (209A)

We have, at the beginning of our project, decided against showing restraining order hearings due to the sensitive nature of the proceedings. However, if there is a restraining order connected with a domestic violence criminal case, we will show it. Once we get the project up and running, we will revisit this question.

All Juvenile Sessions

(B) Court proceedings closed at the judge’s discretion

As dictated by S.J.C. Rule 1:19, all remaining situations will be decided on a case-to-case basis by the presiding judge. If for any reason the defense lawyers, the D.A.’s, defendant’s advocates or self-represented defendants believe that there is a plausible reason to stop the live video stream, they may file a motion to the presiding judge, who will have the discretion to grant it.

Factors to be considered include:

  • Victim protection: For example, or the victims of sexual abuse or assault. Also, child victims of sex crimes.
  • Witness protection: For example, a witness who is an informant or undercover law enforcement personnel.
  • Defendant constitutional considerations: For example, an identification case.
  • Bench conferences

Guidelines for archiving

1. Each day’s recordings will be posted to the public archive at the end of the second day following the recording.

2. Recordings will be posted to the public archive in their entirety unless:

A) The District Attorney’s office or any interested party notifies WBUR prior to release of the recording to the public that there are specific portions of the recording that they wish redacted;


B) WBUR agrees with the reasons stated for redaction and determines that the public benefit of release of the information is outweighed by the potential harm.

3. Notice to WBUR will state with specificity:

A) The nature of the information requested to be redacted;

B) The proceeding in which the information requested to be redacted was disclosed, including the name and number of the case and, if possible, the approximate time at which the information was disclosed

C) The reasons why that particular information needs to be redacted;


D) The minimum amount of the recording that needs to be redacted to resolve those specific issues.

4. If WBUR disagrees with the reasons stated for redacting portions of the recording, WBUR shall promptly notify the party requesting redaction (and the District Attorney’s office, if the DA is not the requesting party) of that decision, and allow the requesting party one additional day to request mediation of the disagreement. The mediation shall be done by a mediator of WBUR’s choosing.

5. If such a request for mediation is made, WBUR shall delay release of the recording to the public until mediation has been attempted. A party requesting mediation shall make itself available for mediation within one day of the request and the mediation session shall be limited to one hour.

6. Notwithstanding the foregoing, blanket requests to withhold recordings from public access (including requests to withhold all recordings of a particular day or all recordings relating to a particular case or type of case) shall not be permitted and will not be considered, and WBUR shall not delay release of a recording to the public in response to such a request. Requests to turn off the camera for the entirety of a particular case should be addressed to the Court before the proceeding in question rather than addressed to WBUR after a recording has already been made.

7. The District Attorney’s office or an interested party to a proceeding may request redaction even after a recording has been released to the public by providing notice in the form described above. However, the recording shall remain open to the public pending the resolution of that request, and WBUR may take into account the length of time that information has already been public in responding to such a request. Parties requesting redaction are therefore encouraged to request redaction as soon as is reasonably possible.

Revisions to the Massachusetts Guidelines

Just this year the Supreme Judicial Court proposed major changes to Rule 1:19, the state “Cameras in the Courtrooms” statute. They renamed it “Electronic Access to the Courts.”

The proposed revision to the statute is adapting to modern-day journalistic and technological realities by expanding the technologies permissible in court coverage and redefining who can cover the judiciary. All members of the media will be able to use their laptops and smartphones in the courtroom and to transmit their reporting directly from there, and citizen journalists will have the same rights as traditional media outlets.

While in the current Rule 1:19 allows only one video camera and one still camera, the update adds a camera position, which can be used by citizen journalists.

While OpenCourt is operating independently of Rule 1:19, the goal of our project is to study how the policy of greater technological access to the courts works in a real-world setting.