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Federal Judiciary Seeks Evidence To Support Cameras in Court

Project seeks to determine if cameras affect witnesses, lawyers and judges

A camera that is part of the Digital Video Pilot program is deployed at the U.S. District Court of Northern Illinois. A pilot project to determine whether witnesses, lawyers and even judges are affected by the presence of cameras in U.S. district courts will help decide if cameras remain there.

The recordings have shown that “playing to the camera” has not been a factor, the official overseeing the program told Government Video.

The federal judiciary’s Digital Video Pilot—involving 14 U.S. district courts—began on July 18, 2011, said Cary Casola, broadcast manager for the Administrative Office of the United States Courts. In addition to the recordings, court staff operating the equipment has indicated that acting for the camera has not occurred, he said.

“If you look at the clips, I don’t think you’ll see that,” said Casola, who added he has “talked to a lot of the courts’ staff and I get [from the staff] that’s not the case.”

The program is scheduled to continue until July 18, 2014, and involves 14 federal trial courts in the Middle District of Alabama, Northern District of California, Southern District of Florida, District of Guam, Northern District of Illinois, Southern District of Iowa, District of Kansas, District of Massachusetts, Eastern District of Missouri, District of Nebraska, Northern District of Ohio, Southern District of Ohio, Western District of Tennessee and Western District of Washington.

Under the rules of the program, recordings are limited to civil cases, and no proceeding may be recorded without the approval of the presiding judge and the parties involved. When the case is complete, the recordings can be viewed on uscourts. gov; they also can be on posted on the participating court’s website. As of Dec. 31, 2012, there have been 116,520 viewings of 50 court proceedings.

Each court has a minimum of three participant cameras. One is dedicated to the judge, another is focused on the witness stand and the third is assigned to the lawyers, Casola said. A fourth camera is exclusively for evidence, he added.

The technology used to make those recordings generally is a mix of existing video conferencing systems with recording systems added for the project, Casola said. “When we first got the pilot off the ground we were working with districts that had preinstalled systems or single-camera solutions,” he said.

Recently five portable systems were installed at federal courts in Boston, Chicago, Montgomery, Ala., Seattle and Washington, Casola said. Those systems were provided by Mobile Studios and included PortaCast Mini-Flypacks equipped with Panasonic AW-HS50 Switcher, Panasonic AW-RP50 Robotic Controller installed in its “Pelican” style case with built-in Multiview 22 inch LED Monitor and patch panel. Also provided were Panasonic AW-HE50S robotic high-definition cameras and a Viewcast Niagara 4100 streaming encoder, according to Mobile Studios.

Typically, court IT personnel operate the equipment, but at other courts deputies do so, including “actually switching from camera to camera,” Casola said. When supplying equipment, the Digital Video Pilot took into account such situations as well as courts where video systems are operated by one person.

In addition, cost was a factor, along with a desire to get a long-term return on the investment, he said. “We decided that for the sake of the pilot we would go with HD cameras, and we were impressed with the Panasonic line,” he added.


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