Does Freedom Of Information In The Information Age Extend To The Video Recording Of Personal Injury Trials?
I recently tried a personal injury case in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. My client asked me before the trial started whether there was going to be a video recording of his trial. He observed the videographer set up equipment, but I explained this was for the playing of the expert deposition testimony that had been taken a week before the trial began. He wanted a video copy of his trial. I explained to my client that the judge would not allow the trial to be videotaped for a variety of reasons, and that I had never seen it done before. But it got me thinking, why not videotape entire trials?
Certainly my client’s case, though very important to my client and to me, was not a high profile case. What would be the point of memorializing the trial on video? To keep as a record of one’s life? After all, the court reporter was recording the trial without video, so that a transcript could be made in the event of an appeal. I offered that to my client, but explained that it would be expensive because we would have to pay the court reporter for transcribing her recording page by page. My client declined.
Ultimately we must balance the positive and negative consequences of videotaping entire personal injury trials. I think at a minimum it would make for a great teaching tool. Law school students as well as anyone, including trial lawyers, who are students of trial advocacy would greatly benefit from seeing themselves and others try cases.
I place myself in the group of trial lawyers who are always trying to improve their trial advocacy skills. Lawyers are required to take Continuing Legal Education classes as one of their State licensing requirements. In Pennsylvania, lawyers must take at least twelve credits of classes per year (about 3 full day classes per year) to retain their licenses. Most trial lawyers, myself included, focus on taking trial advocacy courses. There is always more to learn. The laws change. Technology improves how we can present evidence in the courtroom. A trial lawyer must stay on top of that information. So, I’d love to see and review my own trials, to critique myself and have other lawyers critique me.
Is this likely to happen? Not anytime soon; this despite the fact that an entire trial can now be recorded on an ipod or Droid. In other words, non intrusive technology is readily available to all of us, but it is simply not favored by the courts.
I read an interesting article on point in the Wall Street Journal by Cameron Stracher, a media lawyer in New York. He was commenting on the fact that only sketch drawings of the admitted Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad were allowed from the courtroom. Here’s what he said about the continued ban on video recordings in the courtroom.
It can't be a concern for privacy or decorum: For better or worse, high-profile trials (the only ones anyone is interested in) are a media circus even without cameras in the courtroom. The only explanation is that judges don't trust technology, and actually prefer imprecision to exactitude....In other words, imprecise drawings are OK; accurate photographs are not. Similarly, verbatim written transcripts are not problematic, but a sound recording capturing the nuance of a person's voice poses a real threat.