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Donald Meyers
Donald W. Meyers writes about open-government issues for The Salt Lake Tribune. He is also the site manager of utahsright.com, the Tribune's online database of public records. He is also a member of the Society of Professional Journalists' National Freedom of Information Committee and sits on the board of directors of the Utah Foundation for Open Government.

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Coming to TV in April: Utah Trial Courts

More Utahns will get to see the state’s courts in action this spring.

The Utah Judicial Council approved rules Monday that will allow criminal and civil trials to be televised. Currently, only hearings in the Court of Appeals and the Utah Supreme Court can be shown on television.

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Utah Supreme Court Justice Jill Parrish said the rule change, which also allows people to use laptop computers, tablets and smartphones in courtrooms, "moves us into a new era."

Actually, it brings Utah in line with 19 other states that allow both audio and video recording in criminal and civil trials.

The vote was 9-3, with 2nd District Judge Glen Dawson, 3rd District Judge Paul Maughan and 4th District Judge David Mortensen voting against the change. Maugham said the rule, which presumes recording should be allowed, robs judges of the abiity to control their courtrooms.

But the rule doesn’t completely strip judges of discretion in allowing cameras. Judges could still ban televising cases involving children or gang-related crimes. And videographers, like still photographers, would have to apply at least 24 hours in advance to record.

Proponents say the new rule improves transparency for the courts, allowing people to see how justice is administered in Utah.

Nancy Volmer, spokeswoman for the Utah State Courts, said the courts’ experience with television cameras on the appellate level has been positive. She said the only problem since the rules were implemented in 1997, were some initial questions about sound quality and the occasional camera operator coming wearing shorts during the summer.

But Volmer said the Radio Television Digital News Association had done a survey of courtroom camera access, and found that Utah was in the lowest tier for access.

"[The new rules] means we are now in the top tier in the nation," Volmer said.

Utah allowed still photography in the courts in 1990. The most notable controversy surrounding cameras in Utah’s courtrooms occurred in 2007, when a Deseret News photographer took a picture of a note that Warren Jeffs attempted to hand to the judge hearing his trial on charges he married underage women to adult men. The paper enhanced the picture to reveal that Jeffs, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, said he was not a prophet.

Since then, coutroom photographers have been ordered not to take pictures of documents not admitted into evidence.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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