Judge Stephen Schuster, the Superior Court judge of Cobb County, Georgia, has been tasked with creating a new draft of rules regarding what sort of recording devices – audio and video – can be used in state courts. He is not taking on the challenge alone, though. The Merchant Law Firm, P.C., numerous other legal professionals, and the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (GACDL) are all weighing in.
Rule 22 – the official name of the revised rules in the works – was recently put under the microscope at a meeting hosted by the Supreme Court Justices of Georgia, David Nahmias and Nels Peterson. Lawyers, judges, and even members of the public were encouraged to criticize or appraise the current draft as well as offering up their own ideas. The overall goal is bringing the current Rule 22 into the modern age of smartphones; the preexisting draft was first created more than 30 years ago when the smallest cameras were still too large to be stashed in a courtroom unknowingly.
The underlying objective, as noted by Judge Schuster, is the creation of a new rule that will allow people to record in the courtroom without allowing a judge to bar them. Transparency in the courtroom has been encouraged by many litigators, who believe the criminal justice process will only improve the more the public knows about it. On the other hand, some lawyers are worried that people filming in the courtroom could jeopardize the integrity of a case as people testifying bite their tongues, painfully aware that what they say could be seen by the world in that same instance thanks to streaming video uploads.
Formulating a Middle Ground with New Rules
At this time, it has been proposed that the only people allowed to use smartphones and recording devices in the courtroom will be attorneys. Everyone else – from jurors to spectators – must keep recording devices off and out of sight. Additionally, lawyers would only be permitted to record the courtroom proceedings if a court reporter was unavailable for that session and when the judge is at their bench. This solution could help push Rule 22 into the modern age without simply stripping away all restrictions.
If the current draft becomes the new Rule 22, news media outlets would also face new, updated restrictions for recording in the courtroom. Any third party that does want to film or record what happens in court will need to file a written request no less than a day before the proposed date. At the beginning of courtroom proceedings, the judge will bring the request to light, any party can object, and a hearing will be held immediately if someone does. When accepted, this rule would undo current rules that simply ask that requests be filed in a timely manner, a vague amount of time not specific enough for something as important as courtroom proceedings.
Criticism, Comments, and Questions About Rule 22
In the session hosted by the Georgia Supreme Court Justices, attendees were not hesitant to air their concerns and grievances about the suggested changes to Rule 22. Many had issue with banning everyone but lawyers from recording in court, feeling like it might even verge on an obstruction of the Constitutional rights of those prohibited.
Attorney Ashleigh Merchant of The Merchant Law Firm was there as a representative of the Georgia Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. She criticized the proposed changes as nothing more than a way to try to secure job positions for court reporters, instead of a way to improve and advance the law. She also emphasized that lawyers need to be able to have quick and comprehensive communication with assistants, paralegals, and witnesses in order to properly manage a case. By only allowing attorneys to record in the courtroom, roadblocks would be propped up between lawyers, their staff, and their clients, who would have to wait to get their hands on a copy of recordings. It would also theoretically break healthy and harmless communications between parents and their children in divorce cases.
Angie Coggins, the President of the GACDL, agreed with Ashleigh Merchant and her points of contention. She furthered the concerns by asking what would be done, if anything at all, to penalize someone who used a cellphone in court for personal use. Ultimately, after weighing Merchant’s points and reviewing the situation, the GACDL claimed it did not support the entirety of the proposed Rule 22 changes at this time.
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