By Ben Simmoneau
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — With two trials getting national attention – the Jerry Sandusky case and the Philadelphia priest sex abuse trial – some are wondering if it’s time for Pennsylvania to reconsider its rule prohibiting cameras in most courtrooms.
Pennsylvania is one of just eight states to bar cameras from criminal trials, according to the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). Forty states allow them, and two others are testing cameras in trials. Right now in Pennsylvania, “broadcasting” is prohibited in criminal trials and in civil cases where there’s a jury. Cameras are permitted at the appellate level, including at the state Supreme Court, which sets the rules.
“We all have a right to see what’s going on,” said Zack Stalberg, with Philadelphia’s Committee of Seventy, a government watchdog organization. “All of this should be open to the public. Any branch of government should be open to the public.”
Stalberg says it’s no surprise that Pennsylvania still doesn’t allow cameras, as the state is rarely at the forefront of openness in government.
“I think that’s bad for democracy. The public is paying for this,” he said. “It would certainly help people understand the complexities of any of these cases and make up their own minds based on what they see.”
Plus, he argues the technology “is such that it can be done today without being much of a distraction in the courtroom.”
And some lawyers agree.
“I think they should [allow cameras], but that’s my personal opinion,” said John Savoth, Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association. Officially, the Bar has not taken a position on cameras in trials.
“The analysis has to go to what effect it’s going to have, and disruption could be one of them,” said Savoth. “It could affect the presentation of evidence in the case, either by the attorneys or by the witnesses.”
Eyewitness News asked Pennsylvania Chief Justice Ron Castille for an interview on this topic, but he turned us down.