Federal court to let cameras record some civil trials for broadcast on Internet and TV

The US District Court in Massachusetts is one of 14 courts around the country that will participate in a three-year pilot program to allow civil cases to be tape recorded for broadcast over the Internet and on television news programs.

At a press conference today, US District Court Chief Judge Mark L. Wolf outlined the details of the program: The District Court will use its own video cameras to record some civil hearings, then will post those videos online hours after the hearing, where they can be viewed or downloaded.

Recordings will not be allowed for criminal hearings.

Members of the public and the media will be able to submit requests that a civil hearing or trial be videotaped. For civil hearings, the attorneys on both sides, as well as the judge, must provide consent for the hearing to be recorded.

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The cameras will not film members of a jury.

Videotaped court proceedings are set to begin Oct. 17 in the Boston and Springfield courthouses. Worcester’s federal court is expected to start later this year once cameras are installed there, officials said.

The pilot program has been met with mixed reactions from judges, Wolf said, many of whom believe cameras in course lead to a “media circus’’ in high-profile court cases.

“You’ll see a difference in the way various judges respond to this,’’ Wolf said.

But Wolf said he supports the program.

“For myself, it’s the same reason why I try to make proceedings in the courtroom as accessible and as understandable as possible,’’ Wolf said. “It’s a way that the public holds government officials and attorneys accountable.’’

Massachusetts state courts have permitted television and still cameras in courtrooms for several years.

The decision could impact news coverage of current high-profile cases.

While the prosecution of James “Whitey’’ Bulger will not be recorded because it is a criminal case, civil cases brought against the reputed gangster by families of his alleged victims may be taped and subsequently aired on television and the Internet.

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