Camera coverage OK’d for Prop. 8 trial

But judge denies request to stream proceedings live online

Camera coverage will be allowed at the upcoming San Francisco federal trial over Proposition 8, but the proceedings over California’s ban on same-sex marriage will not be a live feed but a tape-delayed telecast streamed on YouTube.

That was the decision on Wednesday of U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who is presiding over the case. He also will allow live feeds of the trial to be sent to other federal courthouses, which are expected to include Pasadena, Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, and possibly others.

Walker cited the widespread interest in the trial, scheduled to begin on Monday, as a reason for allowing the camera coverage, although it falls short of a request made by a coalition of media entities to cover the trial live via InSession, the successor to Court TV. Instead, coverage will be under the court’s control, and a court employee will be uploaded a tape to YouTube in intervals at certain intervals or after each day’s proceeding.

Thomas Burke, the attorney representing the media coalition, which includes the major broadcast networks, the Associated Press and CNN, said that although Walker’s decision falls short of what they wanted, it represented a “very positive first step” in opening the federal courts to camera access. It will be the first federal trial in the Western states to have camera coverage, and it follows the Judicial Council of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ approval of a a pilot program for covering such non-jury civil trials, on a case by case basis. Ninth Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski still has to sign off on Walker’s plan.

It was very clear that [Judge Walker] had an understanding of the historic significance of the case and having the case televised,” Burke said.

At the trial, Walker will consider whether Proposition 8, which California voters passed in 2008, violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection and due process. Ted Olson and David Boies, who filed the suit on behalf of two same-sex couples denied a marriage license last year, favored allowing cameras, while Charles Cooper, representing the supporters of the initiative, opposed the idea. Given the protests that followed the passage of Proposition 8, proponents of the marriage ban say they fear that witnesses will be subject to harassment from the exposure that comes with television coverage.

It’s unclear what will happen if a witness asks not to be shown on camera. There was a demonstration at Wednesday’s hearing of how the cameras would work, and technical staff are working on the ability to obscure the faces of witnesses during their testimony, but that only will be if the court orders it. “It is a very fluid situation, and one that the court can address on a witness by witness basis,” Burke said.

Walker had also sought public input on his decision, and groups like Focus on the Family have been pressing Walker to not allow television access, while the progressive Courage Campaign had collected some 82,000 signatures to allow for a press camera in the courtroom.

After the hearing, Burke expressed satisfaction with the decision, noting how significant a departure it was for the court to allow some TV coverage. “It’s an evolutionary thing, and we’ve evolved a lot in the last 24 hours.”

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