If the local chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has its way, "Lights! Camera! Action!" soon may be the order of the day in D.C. Superior Court.
Terming the current ban on cameras "outdated and wholly unjustified," the ACLU last week filed a lengthy petition calling for the local courthouse to be opened for camera coverage of trials. The petition says studies have shown no adverse effect on trials in the 29 states that have lifted the camera ban at least partially.
The national ACLU in the past has opposed cameras in the courtroom, but the national policy, according to local director Arthur B. Spitzer, is being reviewed.
The local ACLU says that current rules banning cameras are a historic anomaly that dates from the 1930s, when cameras needed bright lights, exploding flashes, noisy equipment and bulky cables.
Some court officials said last week they doubted that the city court would change its rules, copied from the federal court rules, until the federal court changes its procedures.
But sources said that Superior Court Chief Judge H. Carl Moultrie I is not opposed to the idea, at least on an experimental basis, and one courtroom here was, in fact, built with a one-way mirror so cameras could record the proceedings.
The ACLU argues that the presence of a single camera using available lighting and the court's modern sound system would not distort witnesses' testimony or the conduct of the lawyers and judges.
Some courthouse observers say that, with or without cameras, it would be impossible for some of the more flamboyant attorneys and judges to get any more colorful than they are now.
The only thing the cameras would do, these observers say, would be to allow the public actually to see how things work--or don't work--in the public's courts.