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Southern Indiana judges to welcome cameras in the courtroom for some proceedings

Judges and magistrates from Southern Indiana sit around a table to discuss plans to allow news media into some court hearings and trials.
Aprile Rickert
/
LPM
Southern Indiana judges and magistrates met this week to discuss a state change that will allow them to permit news media to record in the courtroom in some cases.

Judges in local Indiana courts will soon be able to allow news media to record and broadcast some proceedings from the courtroom, following a rule change this year by the state supreme court. In Southern Indiana, judges say they welcome the chance for the public access it will bring.

For years, reporters covering hearings and trials in Indiana have relied on pen and paper, or digital note-taking, in the courtroom. Cameras and recorders were only able to catch what happens in the hallways or outside.

Recording in the courtroom has historically only been allowed with express permission from the state Supreme Court. But starting May 1, local judges will have discretion over cameras and recorders in their courtrooms, following an order from the high court in February.

There are restrictions — members of the media will have to get permission from the court, and they’ll be prohibited from recording minors, jurors or victims of violent offenses. Judges can reject requests to record witnesses, or for any other reason they see fit.

“The judge has discretion to approve or deny a request for broadcast of a court proceeding,” the order allowing the change reads. “If the judge allows broadcast, the judge has discretion to interrupt or stop the coverage if he or she deems the interruption or stoppage appropriate. The judge also has discretion to limit or terminate broadcast by a news media organization at any time during the proceeding.”

In Southern Indiana, judges and magistrates say they welcome the chance for greater transparency in their courtrooms, and that they’ll balance that need with the responsibility to protect court participants’ rights.

This week, judges and magistrates from Clark, Floyd and Scott counties met to discuss the upcoming changes and answer questions from journalists.

“The courts are here to serve the people, that is our goal,” said Maria Granger, who presides over Floyd Superior Court 3. “And that's what we want … to make sure that everyone will be able to see that.”

Granger, who’s been on the bench for 14 years, said she’s had “very positive experiences working with the media” and that she thinks “it is a connection to the community that's important to nurture.”

But she will make sure to weigh each situation to ensure safety and people’s rights are upheld.

“I'm going to take the cases on a case-by-case [basis], make sure that there aren't sensitive considerations with the parties or the issues that the case is hinging on,” Granger said.

Clark County Circuit Court No. 2 Judge Nick Karaffa said he thinks it’s a great change and is glad to see Indiana joining other states that have similar rules in place.

“Transparency is key. It gives the public an opportunity to not only see what's going on, but to know what's going on,” he said.

Karaffa said he will also take each request on a situational basis.

Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush said in a February statement the change is a “culmination of years of work” including collaboration between state court departments and media organizations. Plans have included a four-month pilot program and public comment period.

“Trial court judges are in the best position to determine how to balance the importance of transparency while protecting the rights of people involved in a court matter,” Rush said in the statement.

During Thursday’s meeting between local judges, Clark County Presiding Judge Vicki Carmichael also presented a draft order outlining the Clark County judges’ policies regarding the rule change. Recording equipment and personnel will be limited to a total of one video camera, one radio recording device and one still photographer. All media outlets will pool those recordings. Reporters can bring in small handheld recorders for accuracy.

The state rule and local policies apply only to news media — members of the public are not allowed to record proceedings. In Clark County, the judges will also begin enforcing a policy May 1 that bans members of the public from bringing cell phones, cameras and other recording devices into the courthouse.

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec, Inc. and the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation.

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Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.