Frequently Asked Questions
- What is OpenCourt?
- What are the expected outcomes of this project?
- Why is there a need for this project?
- Why Quincy District Court?
- Practically, how will it work?
- Who is involved in the project?
- How is the project being funded?
- What laws currently govern the use of media in the courtroom?
- When will the camera be on? And who will control what is recorded and what is not?
- If I’m a juror, how is my identity being protected?
- I’m interested in attending a court case and using cameras/Twitter/blogging to report about it – how do I do that?
- How do I get access to the footage you’ve shot?
- What is OpenCourt’s archiving policy?
- I’m having trouble viewing the archive. What am I doing wrong?
- How can I ask for something to be removed from the archive?
- Are your recordings the official record of the court?
- I don’t want to be on camera – what do I do?
- What is your contact information?
OpenCourt is a pilot project to make Quincy District Court more accessible to the public through the use of modern technology.
At the outset, a video camera has been set up to stream the court’s First Session courtroom. Anyone on the internet may view these live proceedings, alongside daily archives.
A Wi-Fi network has also been set up for journalists and bloggers who wish to transmit stories, post reports, and otherwise go about their online business directly from the courtroom.
One goal of OpenCourt is to build a guidebook for courts anywhere in the country that want to modernize their courtroom but don’t know where to start. Technical challenges and policy issues are myriad in the process, and we hope to make that process easier for others by highlighting our most important mistakes and successes.
We plan to create best-practice protocols, for example what to consider if and how to post the court’s daily criminal list, or the ideal conditions for streaming live video from the courthouse. We aim to serve as a model for the integration of new technology into the courts, with the hope that it increases the public’s awareness and understanding of our nation’s judicial system.
Another goal of this project is to increase public awareness of what happens inside this district court – one of thousands across the country that affect regular people’s lives every day. Seeing how a court is actually run, and how real judges make decisions, will ideally spur more confidence in the judicial system.
Citizens have less time and journalists have fewer resources to follow the judiciary. We hope to improve the public’s access to and understanding of the courts by way of video streams, social media, smart phones, wireless networks — tools that are already in the public’s hands.
Courthouses were built in the center of town so people could witness the judicial process. Today, generally, the only members of the public who know what is going on are those who have to appear in court or sit on a jury. The public bridge to the nation’s courts changed dramatically with the introduction of cameras in courtrooms during the 1970s.
That was 40 years ago. As technology evolves, so must court policies regarding contemporary media practices. To read more about the history of cameras in American courtrooms, click here.
Quincy District Court has a reputation for innovation that goes back decades. In the last 1970′s, the court pioneered a system for handling domestic violence cases linking together the courts, the police and the D.A’s office that became a nationwide model. In the early 1980’s, the court also established a novel mediation program to help settle smaller cases without the ruling of a judge or clerk magistrate. The project was also seeking a busy court and found it in Quincy. Last year the court handled more than 7,000 criminal claims and more than 15,000 civil cases, including more than 1,100 restraining orders, nearly 1,000 substance abuse and mental health cases and more than 1,200 landlord-tenant cases.
The project will start with one camera live-streaming footage from the First Session courtroom. A producer will be present at all times when the camera is running and only judge-run sessions will be streamed. The judge is responsible for controlling whether the video stream is online or offline. He or she will have a computer mirroring the live-streaming website that will be able to toggle the stream on and off. We recognize the need to balance the First Amendment right of free speech with the Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial. We recognize sensitive privacy issues and want to ensure that the court remains a welcoming place to work and to come seek justice. For more information, please see our guidelines.
The project is being run by WBUR, Boston’s NPR station, with the full cooperation of Quincy District Court and the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts. Joe Spurr and Val Wang will be in court most days to facilitate the project. The project is also being supported by the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court Judiciary-Media Committee, the National Conference of the Court Public Information Officers, the Boston University School of Communication and the Citizen Media Law Project at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Committee (SJC) has implemented Rule 1:19, which regulates the use of still and video cameras in the court. The SJC is currently considering revisions to the rule, including for example the incorporation of appropriate usage of social media. Though not bound to the new guidelines being proposed, this project will be a test kitchen of sorts for some of these proposed revisions.
All 50 states allow for some form of camera use in the courtroom. These states’ rules can generally be broken down into three tiers. First, the 19 states with the broadest coverage give near-total discretion to the presiding judge. Second, 16 states (including Massachusetts) prohibit coverage of important types of cases, or under relevant circumstances when witnesses object to broadcasting their testimony. Third, 15 states essentially allow appellate coverage only.
The categorical bans on broadcasting vary from state to state, but there is some near-universal agreement regarding certain matters that should not be broadcast. The most common broadcasting bans relate to the conduct of the trial: jury proceedings, attorney-client conferences, bench conferences, etc. The next most common bans are meant to protect certain groups of participants, such as minors or victims of sexual assault. Finally, there is a wide variety of other bans, such as broadcasting informants’ testimony, motion to suppress hearings, or testimony during sentencing hearings.
To read more about media laws governing the courtroom, please visit our best practice primers for wiring up a court.
The cameras will only be on while a judge is on the bench presiding and while an OpenCourt producer is present. We have initial guidelines at the outset of the project, which will undoubtedly evolve as we discover what works best. Ultimately, the presiding judge will decide what can and can’t be shot, and he or she will have control from the bench to toggle the live video stream.
Massachusetts Rule 1:19, the “Cameras in the Courts” statute, prohibits the broadcast of the faces of the jury or the jury empanelment process. If we do cover a jury trial, the camera will crop out the jury.
I’m interested in attending a court case and using cameras/Twitter/blogging to report about it – how do I do that?
If you wish to report, blog or tweet from court, you may access the first session’s public WiFi network simply upon clicking to agree to our user guidelines. If you wish to shoot photos or video, you must first contact the court officers and adhere to rules set to retain the courtroom’s decorum. For now, there is still only one still camera and one video position allowed. The judge will always have final say regarding whether any behavior is distracting or otherwise inappropriate.
Please visit our video archive page.
If we deem any portion of the recording inappropriate, we will redact it, using the same professional standards that WBUR does. There is also a process by which defense attorneys, the D.A.’s office or other involved parties may come to OpenCourt to ask for a redaction. Involved parties will continue to be able to request redaction even after a day’s recording is made public.
The Digital Media Law Project at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society assisted OpenCourt to create a framework that allows any interested parties (including attorneys on either side, defendants, victim advocates, or other affected individuals) to request redaction from us. Please read it here.
No. We are an independent news organization running a pilot project. We have no vendor-client relationship to the court. If you are looking for the official audio recording of the court, please contact the court.
In most cases, your right to privacy does not extend to the courtroom, unless you are a minor. If you have been arrested, it is a matter of public record. There are several exceptions. Massachusetts Rule 1:19, the “Cameras in the Courts” statute, prohibits the broadcast of certain types of proceedings. However, we recognize sensitive privacy issues and want to ensure that the court remains a welcoming place to work and to come seek justice. To this end, we have created guidelines for when the camera can be turned off. If you or your attorney may petition the judge if you feel your situation warrants the camera to be off.
We want to hear from you. If you have input or ideas about the project, please contact us.
- John Davidow, Executive Director | firstname.lastname@example.org | 617- 353-0148
- Joe Spurr, Director | email@example.com | 617-984-4205 | twitter.com/joespurr
- Val Wang, Producer | firstname.lastname@example.org | 617-984-4205
- Twitter: twitter.com/opencourtus
OpenCourt is offline Tuesday, January 1. Please check the schedule and feel free to view the archives in the meantime. Thanks for your interest!
Criminal trials in Jury Room A. Presiding: Judge Moriarty.
Jury Room A. Presiding: Judge Moriarty.
Jury Room A. Presiding: Judge Mark Coven.
Arraignments in First Session. Afternoon: Drug Court. Presiding: Judge Moriarty.
First Session. Presiding: Judge O’Dea.
Jury Room A. Presiding: Judge Moriarty.