PCN allowed to tape Pennsylvania Supreme Court proceedings
Next month, people will be able to watch from the comfort of their living rooms as lawyers argue before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court the fate of two people on death row.
The Supreme Court announced Monday that for the first time in its history, it will allow television cameras to record oral arguments for broadcast later.
"I'd like to see this as an educational tool so that the citizens we work for can see what the third branch of government does," Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille said. "To some extent, we're mysterious, handing rulings down on high. Citizens will get to see the real work of court and see how it potentially affects their lives."
The change does not affect the state's ban on any recording of criminal proceedings in lower courts. The state allows cameras in nonjury civil proceedings.
The Supreme Court set some restrictions on the recordings.
The Pennsylvania Cable Network, or PCN, will not be allowed to broadcast the arguments live, and it must record and air hearings from beginning to end. The network will not be permitted to record conferences between attorneys or among justices.
Proceedings that have been sealed won't be recorded. The high court can limit or stop coverage "when necessary to protect the rights of the parties or to assure the orderly conduct of the proceedings," according to its agreement with PCN, which has been broadcasting arguments before Commonwealth Court and the state Superior Court for several years.
The broadcasts will begin Sept. 13; Castille said the court, aside from the death penalty cases, will hear arguments on a variety of issues including product liabilities, an appeal from a decision by the state's Open Records department and whether the state should pay back $600 million to its medical liability compensation fund.
"Chief Justice Castille and all the justices are to be commended for their leadership in taking this historic step," PCN President Brian Lockman said in a prepared statement. "They are giving Pennsylvanians the opportunity to see the Supreme Court performing its duties as it has since 1684."
Castille said the court has considered the matter for nearly a decade, but "there were justices who were resistant to it. They weren't into modern technology."
As the bench evolved, replacements "were more attuned to modern times," he said.
"It's more important for us to videotape our court. There's a need for transparency in government."
University of Pittsburgh law professor John M. Burkoff called the change a nod to modern times.
"There are cameras everywhere. You're being watched on the street. I think that there is a generational tilt toward more openness, and cameras in the courtroom is essentially inevitable."
Allegheny County Court Administrator Raymond Billotte said he didn't believe the door will necessarily swing open to cameras in local court proceedings.
He pointed out that in Supreme Court appeals, only attorneys appear before the seven-justice panel. In criminal cases, witnesses, victims and jurors appear before a judge.
Castille said the court conducted two days of test recordings this year, though they were not broadcast. Justices looked at the recordings and did not find any problems.
"After a while, you didn't even realize the session was being taped," Castille said.
He added that there was little concern that attorneys would play to the cameras.
"It's a matter of grace, so generally, attorneys are well-behaved," he said.
Attorney James Ross of Ambridge, who has argued before the state Supreme Court, said experienced attorneys shouldn't find the cameras a distraction.
"This isn't an earth-shattering decision," Ross said. "It's not going to make that much of a difference. People aren't going to be interested in watching, except for critical cases, which is rare."
But Ross lamented the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court shuns cameras, citing Thurgood Marshall's desegregation arguments in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.
"Just think how important that is to our history, and all of that was lost," he said.Additional Information:
The Pennsylvania Cable Network, which will begin broadcasting Pennsylvania Supreme Court proceedings on a tape-delay basis on Sept. 13, is available on Comcast Cable channel 100 or 110 in many parts of Western Pennsylvania.
Check listings for other cable and satellite providers. PCN reaches 3.3 million homes statewide.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- NFL parity makes playoff chase a multi-team muddle
- Inching closer to return, Pitt’s Wright could boost defense
- LaBar: Timing perfect for Sting’s debut at WWE’s Survivor Series
- Finding balance between toughness, excessiveness key for Penguins’ Downie
- Clues to Chief Justice John Roberts’ thinking on new ObamaCare case
- Iraqi family, torn apart for opposing Saddam, reunites at Pittsburgh airport
- Pirates trade Davis to A’s for international signing bonus money
- WCCC revises purchasing policy
- Martial arts tournament in Marshall fierce, yet friendly
- Ford City boys basketball coach brings winning personality for final season
- Builder finds calling as chaplain at Westmoreland jail