A move to allow the filming or taping of trials in Virginia appears to have run out of steam despite strong support for the proposal from key members of the state bar association and the House of Delegates.
In recent weeks, committees of two influential lawyers' groups have refused to support a proposal to change Virginia law to permit photos or recordings during courtroom proceedings. Committees of the Virginia Bar Association and the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association took the action after William F. Parkerson, chairman of the state Senate Courts of Justice Committee, asked them to examine the issue.
"It would detract from the decorum of the courtroom," said John P. Ackerly, chairman of the state bar association public information committee. "It would not add anything beneficial." Ackerly said cameras would distract jurors and lawyers from the facts of a case and make witnesses nervous and fearful of retribution in criminal cases.
During the last session of the Virginia General Assembly, Parkerson's committee narrowly killed a bill that the full House of Delegates had passed. It would have allowed the state Supreme Court to set up rules for the use of cameras and recording equipment in the courtroom.
The close defeat prompted William B. Poff, president of the Virginia Bar Association, to predict in August that "experimentation with cameras in the courtroom may well be an idea whose time has finally come in Virginia."
But the Virginia Trial Lawyers Association, as well as one of Poff's own bar association committees, disagreed.
The board of directors of the trial lawyers association last month unanimously rejected the plan. The state bar association's public information committee last week also unanimously rejected any change in the state law.
Together with the District and Maryland, Virginia is among about 20 states that prohibit the use of cameras or other recording devices during civil or criminal courtroom proceedings, said a spokesman at the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg. The remaining states permit some form of recording, usually with the consent of one or both parties in a legal proceeding.
The concept has gained increasing support in recent years. The $20 million courthouse under construction in Fairfax County, for example, is equipped for cameras and other recording equipment in anticipation of a change in Virginia law.
Still, many Virginia lawyers and judges oppose the idea.
"I would be very surprised if they allowed cameras in Virginia courts," said Robert F. Horan Jr., Fairfax prosecutor. Cameras, he added, "will make bigger hams out of lawyers than they already are."