THE CIRCUS atmosphere that prevailed during the trial of Bruno Hauptmann for the kidnap-murder of the Lindbergh baby was the last straw. After that trial, the organized bar adopted a rule banning cameras from the courtroom because "the taking of photographs . . . degrades the court." The ban was extended in 1952 to include television, though photographers were allowed to record ceremonial occasions, such as naturalization proceedings.
The Code of Judicial Conduct promulgated by the American Bar Association does not have the force of law, but serves as a model for state courts, most of which have adopted the standards. Within the last five years, however, 38 states have changed that provision of the code that restricted the use of cameras in court. Some states allow coverage only of appellate proceedings, where there are no witnesses; others bar cameras from criminal trials but allow them to be used in civil proceedings. Last year, the Supreme Court, in the case of Chandler v. Florida, specifically approved an experimental Florida procedure even in a criminal case where the defendant had objected to televising the trial.
In light of that decision, and taking into account the fact so many states now allow cameras in the court, the bar association, at its annual meeting in San Francisco this month, amended its own code to ease the restriction. While the lawyers didn't go so far as to encourage media coverage of judicial proceedings, they agreed that if the supervising appellate court or judicial council in a state wanted to allow cameras in courtrooms, a judge could do so if this was "consistent with the right of the parties to a fair trial and subject to express conditions, limitations and guidelines which allow such coverage in a manner that will be unobtrusive, will not distract the trial participants and will not otherwise interfere with the administration of justice."
Court proceedings in the District of Columbia are not now televised, but the National Capital Area Civil Liberties Union has filed a petition with Judge George H. Revercomb, chairman of the Superior Court Rules Committee, asking that the prohibition be lifted. This newspaper has submitted papers in support of that petition. We believe that making legal proceedings available for viewing by the general public will increase understanding of the judicial system and provide an incentive for both judges and lawyers to perform at a high level of excellence. The Supreme Court has held that there are no constitutional problems with cameras in the court, and the ABA has now removed any possible ethical objections. The courts of this city should take advantage of the opportunity to experiment with live media coverage of trials and appeals.