Cameras must get into courts

We’ve been unnecessarily shut out of yet another courtroom.

James F. Dibble, 29, is on trial in Fulton County Court, accused of murdering his mother at her home in Ephratah last year.

This newspaper requested the court let its photographer take pictures of the trial. After all, the public has a right to see that justice is being carried out.

Fulton County Court Judge Polly Hoye denied the request. The only consolation given was that a photographer could be in the courtroom during sentencing if Dibble is found guilty.

This newspaper – and plenty of other media groups in New York state – have run into this problem before with state and local courts.

While some judges have been permitting still-camera photographers on a limited case-by-case basis, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who presides at the state Court of Appeals, has noted access is cumbersome and requires judges to navigate an outdated law. That law was passed 60 years ago and prohibits audiovisual coverage of public proceedings where witnesses are subpoenaed or otherwise compelled to testify.

Attorneys do not unanimously agree on whether cameras should be in courtrooms.

While the New York State Bar Association Committee has recommended allowing cameras in courtrooms, the New York State Defenders Association opposes the idea. The association claims broadcasting the proceedings threatens the right to a fair trial because of adverse publicity.

As we have noted before, we disagree. In 1987, the state authorized experimental programs in which judges could allow audiovisual coverage of proceedings. When the last program ended in 1997, the state refused to renew the access. The experimental programs showed no evidence that video cameras during trials caused any miscarriage of justice.

State lawmakers should make it a priority to allow cameras – still and video – into courtrooms.

We want to show the public what happens in a courtroom – something that is inherently in the public’s best interest.