The Maryland Senate went along with the House of Delegates today in disapproving of an 18-month experiment that permits television and still cameras as well as tape recorders in the state's courtrooms.
The future of the experiment, begun Jan. 1 by the Maryland Court of Appeals, now is up to Gov. Harry Hughes. He has said it should be allowed to run its course, but a spokesman said today the governor has not yet decided whether to veto or sign the legislation that is headed for his desk.
The Senate bill approved today on a 27-to-20 vote, as well as the House measure passed Feb. 17 by a vote of 97 to 34, would ban cameras and recorders from criminal trials. The Senate bill goes farther, banning them from trials of civil cases as well.
The legislature may pick one of the bills or choose to send them both to the governor.
Since the appeals court decided to allow cameras in the courtroom, only three of 16 requests for electronic coverage have been granted. Under the rule, both sides in a case must consent and witnesses may ask the judge to ban cameras from the courtroom.
In debate today, such safeguards failed to impress the likes of Sen. Melvin A. Steinberg (D-Baltimore County) who compared the courtroom to an "operating room that has to be sterile, free of germs and bacteria."
"The essence of our system [is] Lady Justice with her blinders on," said Steinberg, a lawyer. "Any outside interference dilutes from that."
When Sen. Howard Denis (R-Montgomery), a defender of media access, sought to debate the bill's sponsor, he found himself carrying on a virtual siloloquy. The sponsor, Sen. Victor Crawford (D-Montgomery) said simply, "as the TV cameras [which televise the proceedings] are on you, I yield."