Statement on Cameras in Courtroom


Mon, Jan 2, 2023 at 4:52 PM

Dear Ms. Haines:

Subject: Extended coverage rule set for hearing on January 6 at 2:30 p.m.

Ms. Sandra Haines
Rules Committee

Dear Ms. Haines:

I am a Baltimore lawyer who served as Law Clerk to Chief Judge Brune in 1963-64, subsequently served as an Assistant Attorney General in 1967-69, as Executive Assistant to Governor Hughes in 1979-70, and as the author of a two volume treatise on Maryland Civil Law and Practice issued in 1984 and updated annually ever since. Over the years, originally in cooperation with the late Melvin Sykes, I have testified on several occasions before committees of the General Assembly in support of the statute forbidding broadcasting of criminal proceedings.

Efforts by the broadcast media to subvert the statute have consistently failed in the legislature. A well-considered report by a Judicial Conference Committee under the Chairmanship of Judge Nathan Braverman (Report of the Committee to Study Extended Media Coverage of Criminal Trial Proceedings in Maryland (February 1, 2008) upholds the policy of the statute.

The District Court lawsuit seeks to subvert the statute by asserting the constitutional right of the media to broadcast material that is lawfully obtained. This makes it essential as the Rules Committee has recognized, that the number of persons authorized to obtain such materials be circumscribed. I fully support the draft rule as submitted by the Rules Committee, with one qualification: I believe that the exception in paragraph (J) for persons authorized to obtain recordings by the Administrative Judge should be eliminated in the interests of complete transparency, or at least circumscribed by requiring each such authorization to be filed in the case record and not to be effective until at least ten days have passed in which any party to the case, or any third party, may seek judicial review of any such authorization.

I am opposed to the alternative drafts limiting the restriction to the pendency of the criminal case or a short period afterwords. As the Braverman Report recognizes, the evil of broadcasting derives from the possible obloquy that may be heaped on judges, jurors, litigants and witnesses by members of the public who have only viewed portions of the proceedings; the denial of anonymity to witnesses; the power given to the media to select proceedings to be made cause celebres and portions of the proceedings to be unfairly dramatized; and the hydraulic pressure exerted on all participants in the proceedings by the temptations of money and fame offered by the media, which have been shown to alter the behavior even of judges, let alone prosecutors, defense counsel, witnesses, and jurors. These effects are at least as great, and cumulative, after trials have ended, and potentially influence the behavior of all the personnel in subsequent criminal trials, whether or not they involve the same defendant.

The procedures and outcomes in Maryland criminal trials should not be handed over to the four or five lords of our dangerously concentrated mass media. They must remain under this Court’s control, and that of local judges and juries.

Please acknowledge receipt of this communication.

Respectfully yours,

George W. Liebmann

Posted in: Criminal Justice, Judiciary and Legal Issues

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