A final nail was hammered into the coffin of a proposed broadcast of a high-profile same-sex marriage trial in San Francisco Thursday when the judge presiding over the case announced he has dropped the idea.
U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker said at the start of trial proceedings today that he has asked 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Kozinski to withdraw the case from a pilot program for cameras in federal courtrooms.
Walker is presiding over the trial of a lawsuit in which two same-sex couples claim that Proposition 8, California's ban on gay and lesbian marriage, violates their federal constitutional rights.
As part of a pilot program approved by the 9th Circuit last month, Walker had proposed allowing a live video feed of the trial to five other federal courthouses around the country as well as a delayed video broadcast to be posted on YouTube.
Any broadcast of the trial was stopped for at least the near future Wednesday when the U.S. Supreme Court by a 5-4 vote issued an indefinite stay in response to an emergency lawsuit by Proposition 8 sponsors.
The court majority said the local court failed to allow enough time for public notice and comment on a rule change allowing the broadcast. It also said Proposition 8 supporters had raised a reasonable argument that witnesses could be intimidated by cameras.
The four dissenting justices, led by Justice Stephen Breyer, said they believed that rules on comment were followed and that broadcasting the high-profile trial was in the public interest.
But the ruling left unresolved the possibility that a video recording could be preserved and broadcast later, either after the Proposition 8 sponsors completed a full appeal or after a longer period for public comment was provided.
That possibility was ended today when Walker announced he wants to withdraw the case from the pilot program authorized by the 9th Circuit Judicial Council for nonjury civil trials in nine western states.
While television cameras have been allowed in California's state court system and some federal appeals court hearings, they have been permitted in only a handful of federal trials nationwide.
The broadcast of the Proposition 8 case would have been the first coverage of a federal trial in western states.
Cameras operated by court staff members are still being used in the Walker's Federal Building courtroom to relay live video coverage to an overflow courtroom on a different floor. The relay to an overflow room in the same courthouse is routinely used in trials of high public interest and was not blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Charles Cooper, a lawyer for Proposition 8 supporters, asked Walker this morning whether that video is being preserved and if so, whether it shouldn't be destroyed in view of Walker's announcement.
Walker said the video is being kept, but only for his own review later in chambers, which he said is customarily done under existing court rules.
The judge, who will decide the case without a jury, said, "I think it would be helpful to me to have that.
"It's not going to be for the purpose of public broadcasting or televising," Walker said.
Bay City News