Sunshine in Minnesota courts

An admirable pilot project will temporarily allow cameras in state courtrooms.

Unlike our much flashier legislators, the stateâÄôs judges are camera shy. Minnesota remains one of about 15 states with tight restrictions on allowing cameras in courtrooms. Fortunately, however, that might soon change. The Minnesota Supreme Court recently approved a pilot project to allow cameras in courtroom proceedings with a judgeâÄôs approval. The stateâÄôs Supreme Court Advisory Committee on the General Rules of Practice, in partnership with media organizations, will develop the project and make recommendations to the Minnesota Supreme Court next January. Fruition of the project is a remarkable breakthrough in a decades-old debate in the state about the role of electronic media in Minnesota courtrooms, but problems loom. For one, citing budget woes, the court refuses to pay for the pilot or a study analyzing the potential chilling effects of cameras on victims, defendants, jurors and lawyers. (Oddly, no mention of the performance of judges or prosecutors, state officials whom cameras could check.) So the burden remains on petitioners, like the Society of Professional Journalists, for funding the project along with properly addressing arguments opposing cameras in courtrooms. Petitioners will have to pay deference to the very valid concerns of the dissenting justices about whether cameras impede fair trials or âÄî as Justice Alan Page dissented in the order approving the project âÄî whether cameras would exacerbate negative stereotypes of minority defendants. The pilot project will supplement strong evidence that cameras haven’t obstructed fair trials in at least 35 other states. That should persuade any reasonable judge (an oxymoron?) that cameras in courtrooms, properly limited, would shine light on an esoteric branch of the stateâÄôs government charged with incredible powers of incarcerating citizens and interpreting law.