Attorney General Griffin B. Bell and the likely future president of the American Bar Association yesterday endorsed allowing radio and television coverage of oral arguments in the federal appeals courts.
Bell, who was a judge of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for nearly 15 years, said he knew of no compelling reason cameras and microphones should be barred when lawyers argue in appellate courts. Some states, including Bell's native Georgia, admit cameras to their appellate courts.
Bell did not, however, take a stand on whether radio and a television should carry arguments of the Supreme Court, saying he had no wish to start a controversy with Chief Justice Warren E. burger. Burger strongly opposes electronic coverage of Supreme Court proceedings, as do some of the eight associate justices.
Recently, Burger declined to comment on a report that he had described the television networks as "sleazy" operations, that he had said some of the justices would "ham it up" before the cameras, and that he had ruled out telecasting of arguments in the high court as long as he presides there.
Electronic coverage of proceedings in the federal trial and appellate courts is forbidden under rules of the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policymaking body of the federal judiciary which is headed by Burger.
Bell and Leonard S. Janofsky, who was nominated yesterday to be president of the ABA, discussed their views in back-to-back press conferences at the ABA's mid-year meeting.
Joining ABA President William B. Spann Jr., who said last fall that he favors electronic coverage in all the appellate courts, including the Supreme Court, Janofsky said. "I don't have any problem" with the idea.
Electronic coverage of criminal and other trials - particularly before juries, which do not sit in appeals courts - is a controversial issue although some states such as Florida are experimenting with it.
Last Friday, the Conference of Chief Justices of the state supreme courts set up a committee to study revision of the ABA's Code of Judicial Conduct to permit electronic coverage of the courts "under guidelines that would preserve the decorum and fair-press of our judicial proceedings." In a stronger step the next day, a special ABA committee approved a draft report for the House of Delegates saying. "Television, radio and photographic coverage of judicial proceedings is not per se inconsistent with the right to a fair trial."
Yesterday, Attorney General Bell said, "I don't know what to do about televising trials." One the one hand, he said television would force some lawyers to "clean up their act" and make trials more efficient; on the other hand, television might inhibit witnesses.
Janofsky, a partner in the Los Angeles firm of Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker, will formally stand for election at the ABA's annual meeting in Dallas in August. If elected, he will become president of the 225,000-member organization in 1979. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he is vice chairman of the ABA's Commission on Medical Professional Liability.