Cameras, Microphones Briefly Allowed in an Urbana Federal Courtroom
Tuesday's hearing over the consent decree was notable for how it was covered by the news media. Judge Joe Billy McDade allowed electronic media to record the hearing.
University of Illinois journalism professor Steve Helle says cameras and microphones have not been allowed in lower federal courts since 1994.
"The federal courts conducted an experiment between 1991 and 1994 with regard to cameras in the courts. And the experiment was positive, but the Judicial Conference nonetheless voted to ban cameras in the federal courts," said Helle. "There was reconsideration of that policy and they decided to allow cameras in the circuit courts of appeal but still ban them in the district courts."
Tuesday's consent decree settlement hearing took place in federal district court, were cameras and mics are normally banned. But Helle says judges have occasionally "fudged the rules" in civil cases.
In this case, Judge McDade granted an exception for TV cameras that was later extended to all media after a brief meeting with reporters Tuesday morning. McDade told reporters that he had made a mistake in initially approving TV cameras, which he had thought would be for one station's live coverage.
Helle says allowing cameras under any circumstances in a central Illinois federal district courtroom is unprecedented. And he doubts it will be repeated, unless federal court officials decide to change the rules.