Judge Orders Prop. 8 Trial Tapes to Go Public
September 19 2011 2:17 PM ET
Video recordings of the Proposition 8 trial should be unsealed and made available to the public, a federal judge handling procedural matters in the case ruled Monday morning.
U.S. district chief judge James Ware issued his 14-page ruling on the matter three weeks after attorneys representing the four plaintiffs in the case, as well as a coalition of media organizations, argued that the recordings should be released to the public. The judge issued a stay on his ruling effective until September 30 to allow for appeal of the order, however.
American Foundation for Equal Rights cofounder Chad Griffin, who briefly spoke to The Advocate during rehearsals for the Monday night premiere of Dustin Lance Black’s “8” at New York’s Eugene O’Neill Theatre, said, “This is a significant victory for the American people. The public will finally soon get to see what happens in the Perry case. This is something that both sides of the case should celebrate.”
That’s unlikely to happen: Attorneys for Prop. 8 proponents, who have appealed Judge Vaughn Walker’s 2010 decision striking down the ballot measure as unconstitutional, have fought to keep the video recordings sealed. They argue that the tapes were to be used by Judge Walker, now retired, “in preparing the findings of fact and conclusions of law” and were not intended for public dissemination.
Citing that confidence in the judicial system requires “public access to trials and public access to the record of judicial proceedings,” Judge Ware concluded that “no compelling reasons exist for continued sealing of the digital recording of the trial.”
The court record indicates that Judge Walker did not limit the recordings to chambers use only, Ware ruled. Furthermore, unsealing the videos would not interfere with a previous Supreme Court injunction prohibiting live broadcast of the trial, he wrote.
“Although the Court acknowledges that significant public policy concerns are implicated in allowing cameras in federal courtrooms, nothing in this Order speaks to the broader question of whether district court trials should be recorded or broadcast,” Ware wrote. “Rather, this Order solely addresses the narrow question of whether the digital recording in this case, which is in the record, should now be unsealed pursuant to the common law right of access to court records. The Court answers that question in the affirmative, without addressing any of the larger questions that may potentially arise from circumstances similar to this case.”
A PDF of Ware’s ruling is available here.