A committee of federal judges has recommended a three-year experimental program that would for the first time allow television coverage of federal court proceedings.
The committee, voting 4 to 1, endorsed a trial program that would open civil cases in the federal courts to television cameras, radio broadcasts and still photographers. The recommendation will be voted on next month by the policy-making body of the federal judiciary, the 27-member Judicial Conference of the United States.
Although 44 states permit cameras in their courts, the federal judiciary has long been hostile to the idea, rejecting entreaties from broadcasters since 1983 that they be allowed to televise court proceedings.
The committee recommendation, released yesterday, reiterated that the judges remain "unpersuaded that it would be appropriate to drop all restrictions" on broadcast coverage.
But the committee said it believed a "limited experiment" was justified in which television coverage would be tried by one or two appeals courts and up to six district courts.
It cited a May 7, 1990, letter from Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who also serves as chairman of the Judicial Conference, to Rep. Robert W. Kastenmeier (D-Wis.), a strong proponent of cameras in the courts, that he was "by no means averse to the idea" of an experimental program.
Timothy B. Dyk, a Washington lawyer who has been pushing to open federal courtrooms on behalf of a number of news media organizations, welcomed the committee recommendation. "Finally, there is real movement here," he said. "I think it reflects a real change in attitudes toward camera coverage, a real willingness to consider this and to put camera coverage on a par with other kinds of journalism."
Kastenmeier, who chairs a House Judiciary subcommittee on courts, also hailed the action. "The nation is on the brink of a major victory for openness in the federal court system," he said.
The experiment would apply only to civil cases. The Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure prohibit cameras in criminal cases.
The committee judges who favored the program are Senior U.S. District Judge Robert F. Peckham of San Francisco, appeals court Judge John P. Moore of Denver, District Judge Sam C. Pointer Jr. of Birmingham, and appeals court Judge Walter K. Stapleton of Wilmington, Del. District Judge James C. Cacheris of Alexandria opposed it.