GOV. HARRY HUGHES has scheduled a hearing for today on whether he should veto legislation restricting the televising and photographing of trials and hearings in Maryland's courts. Even though he is said to believe the General Assembly will override his action if he vetoes the two bills, he should veto them. The legislation represents an unwarranted vote of no confidence in the state's judges and news media.
Last fall, the Maryland Court of Appeals approved unlimited photographic coverage of its own activities and limited coverage of the trial courts for an 18-month experimental period that began in January. In doing so, the judges were following a recommendation of the Maryland Bar Association and joining wany other states that are permitting television coverage of some kind in the courts.
The General Assembly, turning its back on the evidence that has accumulated in 20 years of carefully controlled courtroom television and photography, voted to override the order of the Court of Appeals. A majority of the legislators apparently believe the judges are being too insensitive to the rights of criminal defendants and other litigants. Their understandable fear is that the presence of cameramen and photographers in the courtroom, and the showing of their work-product to the public, will make it more difficult for courts to provide fair trials. it more difficult for courts to provide fair trials.
By giving television a chance in the courtrooms, Maryland's highest judges have decided only that fair trials and electronic journalism are not necessarily incompatible. If the judges are right -- and that is what the experiment is designed to determine -- television can do much to help the public understand what the courts are doing. If the judges are wrong, the rule no doubt will be changed.
By vetoing the bills before him, Gov. Hughes will simply leave the question of whether trials are fair in the hands of those who traditionally deal with it -- the judges themselves.