Judge will allow camera at Prop 8 hearing

January 6, 2010 6:59:19 PM PST
It will be lights, camera, action in an unusual place. Federal courts traditionally ban cameras in the courtroom, but as part of a new pilot program, the high profile challenge to Proposition 8 -- the ban on same-sex marriage -- will be taped for all to see.

The eyes of the world may be on the federal court in San Francisco next week. One courtroom will have cameras taping the first federal challenge to California's law banning same-sex marriage. ABC7 and other media outlets fought for the trial to be televised.

"In my 20 years of practice here, there hasn't been camera coverage allowed in the federal courts. It's not allowed in the western United States. This is a really important significant step," says Tom Burke, a media coalition attorney.

There are limitations; such as the trial won't be seen live and the court will operate the cameras. There is demonstration video showing three camera angles that was posted on YouTube and that is where delayed releases of the trial proceedings will be found as well.

ABC7's attorney had pushed for In Session, formerly Court TV, to provide high quality live broadcasting as it did for Saddam Hussein's trial in Baghdad. However, Judge Vaughn Walker, perhaps alluding to the O.J. Simpson case, talked about what he called "The checkered history of televised trails" and said he wanted the process "?Completely under the court's control."

Still, for same-sex couples it is a victory.

"We've got to be able to watch these proceedings, our lives are on the line, we want to see and hear everything that happens," says Molly McKay from Marriage equality USA.

Lawyers supporting Prop 8 declined to speak on camera, but at Wednesday's hearing attorney Michael Kirk argued that allowing cameras into the courtroom would "harass and intimidate" witnesses and "threaten their right to a fair trial." Attorneys for the two gay couples who are fighting Prop 8, dismissed those claims.

"When there's a trial of those issues and the issues that they brought to the citizens of California, for them to say 'We don't want to be seen on television explaining what we did and why we did it,' is very, very ironic," says Theodore Olson, the plaintiffs' attorney.

The broadcasting plan now requires approval from the chief judge of the 9th Circuit Court Of Appeals. That's a formality, it is expected, and the trial will take place Monday morning.