Legislators try to halt audio, video in state’s courtrooms

At the rate of Minnesota’s progress, the sun will burn out before its citizens get to see what happens in the state’s courts.

For a few years now, the court system has been experimenting — barely — with allowing cameras to show court proceedings. It’s a bit of a joke since the cameras can’t roll when a jury is present, and judges have the option of saying “no” to cameras and judges almost always do.

And the cameras are only allowed — if they’re allowed at all — after the trial is over and before sentencing. Media must give a judge 10 days notice of their interest in covering a case.

So the fact an advisory panel has recommended the current “pilot project” be made permanent isn’t exactly throwing open the judicial curtains to the sunlight.

There are really good reasons — and a few bad ones — to letting people see its justice system in action.

I will, for example, argue that there’s an overriding public interest in seeing the consequences of our actions.

But, as I wrote last year, the system isn’t for you and me; it’s for the person accused and the people wronged, so we don’t have a right to be there.

And we probably won’t be, anyway.

The St. Cloud Times reports a couple of legislators are pushing a bill that will essentially stop any possibility.

They’ve filed a bill that will prohibit any money from being spent to accommodate cameras and microphones in court.

“Banning cameras makes more sense,” Rep. Jim Knoblachm R-St. Cloud, said. “Here we’ve gotten by without cameras (in court proceedings) for a long, long time.”

There might be good reasons to keep a shroud over the court system, but that’s not one of them.

“It’s such a simple process in each courtroom to allow a camera,” Atty. Mark Anfinson, who represents newspapers, said. “It’s great for the public to see what actually happens in criminal court proceedings once in a while.”

Wisconsin, Iowa, and North Dakota allow cameras to document proceedings and haven’t had significant problems, he says.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Supreme Court will take public comments on the “pilot program” through Monday.

Supreme Court Justice David Lillehaug seems like a likely “yes” vote on making the test permanent, telling the Duluth News Tribune earlier this year that the coverage of the trial of the USA Gymnastics team doctor in Michigan showed the powerful statements of the former gymnasts.

“I think the public benefits from being able to see justice in action. You have to be careful to protect victims if they don’t want their statements to be televised, and we do that in Minnesota. But the idea that the courts can benefit from transparency is a very powerful idea,” Lillehaug said.