Area opinions mixed on trial cameras ideaArea criminal-justice officials approve of having cameras in circuit courtrooms, but some have concerns with how the system would work. They support the idea of showing the public how the court system works. “People would have a better understanding of what is happening in the courtroom rather than relying on TV shows,” said Pat Smith, Davison County state’s attorney.
By: Melanie Brandert, The Daily Republic
Area criminal-justice officials approve of having cameras in circuit courtrooms, but some have concerns with how the system would work.
They support the idea of showing the public how the court system works.
“People would have a better understanding of what is happening in the courtroom rather than relying on TV shows,” said Pat Smith, Davison County state’s attorney.
A committee headed by Robert Miller, a former state Supreme Court chief justice, recommended Friday that cameras and other recording devices should be allowed in trial courts only when everyone in a case agrees.
Smith questioned how much cost would be involved to allow cameras in the courtroom and if the county would need to provide cameras if former Attorney General Larry Long’s proposal was adopted.
Smith also noted some cases, such as rape, involve juvenile victims, and he would not want cameras in the courtroom when they testify. State law allows judges to clear a courtroom if a juvenile victim testifies in court.
“I’ve never had anyone complain when I have had to clear a courtroom,” he said, referring to the media.
Circuit Judge Tim Bjorkman, who presides over Davison County criminal cases, did not want to comment on the proposals because he wasn’t privy to committee reports or meetings.
However, he said he has gained the impression that the committee appears to be carefully analyzing first whether using cameras in the courtroom can improve the justice system and public understanding of it.
“If the answer to that question is ‘yes,’ the question then becomes, ‘Can it do so in a cost-efficient manner and in a way that protects the rights of the parties to the action and jurors?’ ” Bjorkman said. “My sense is that the product that comes from this process is likely to be a reasoned approach that will not add significant cost to the court system, and that contains elements of both the Iowa and Minnesota systems.”
Circuit Judge Sean O’Brien, who handles Aurora and Hanson counties’ caseloads and civil and juvenile cases in Davison County, said he wants to ensure that cameras would not be pose a diversion to witnesses who testify.
“I’m generally in favor with cameras if it can be done in such a way it isn’t going to be a distraction,” he said.
O’Brien suggested having cameras situated in the back of the second-floor courtroom in the Public Safety Center or set up similarly to an eyeball security camera in a corner of the courtroom.
Steve Brink, Davison County chief deputy, said he doesn’t see a problem with cameras in the courtroom.
“I think it’s got to be done professionally,” he said. “There are do’s and don’ts, obviously.”
Brink said juveniles must be protected. If the committee allows cameras, some watchdogs would be needed to ensure the media follows rules, he said.
“I don’t know how they would implement that, if it would be a whole different branch of the court system or if it would come down to the sheriff’s office,” Brink said.