The Criminal Bar Association in the United Kingdom has offered tentative support for placing cameras in the courtroom, in part as a means to tamp down “aggressive” behavior by barristers. The organization added that any introduction of cameras must be done carefully so as to shield (as necessary)the identity of victims.
The sentiments were echoed by the Transparency Project, a group which campaigns to improve the clarity of family courts. The group also noted its skepticism that courtroom cameras would control aggressive lawyering.
Protecting the identities of witnesses, victims, and jurors has long been a sticking point for the introduction of courtroom cameras. But these issues have exist–and would continue to exist–in any open court setting. As the recent ugliness surrounding the Manafort trial has shown, judges are up to the task of protecting the identities of jurors and witnesses as needed on a case-by-case basis.
This depressing story relates the brutal public invective that some family court judges in Connecticut have recently experienced–including a slew of anti-semitic, racist, and homophobic slurs. And it’s not just on social media. Opponents of the judges have erected vicious billboards on interstate highways, and have shown up to public hearings provocatively dressed to draw attention to their hatred of the judge.
The problem is compounded, first, by the nature of family court cases, which are often highly emotional and difficult. The well-accepted standard of doing what is in the “best interests of the child” is easy to state, but not to easy to apply. A second aggravating factor is the ongoing political fight between Connecticut’s legislators and Governor Dannel Malloy over judicial appointments and reappointments. And, of course, delays and court costs only add to the stress of the litigant experience.
So there is much room for improvement. But obviously no judge (indeed, no person) deserves to be attacked based on race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, and the like.
This article provides a nice peek into the construction of the Ulster County (N.Y.) Family Court, a $10 million project that will eventually house new courtrooms, conference rooms, hearing rooms, office space, and a holding facility. There is nothing particularly unusual about the project, but if offers a glimpse into the community’s vision for the building.
This paragraph in particular struck me:
The new court’s location near the county’s Department of Children and Family Services, Department of Social Services, and the Office for the Aging — all at Development Court — will mean Family Court and the services most used by people who come through the court will be in one place, providing for a better continuum of care, Hein said.
That’s a point that could be easily overlooked, but it makes a big difference to the court’s primary users.
Brooklyn’s family court will now benefit from a new high-tech courtroom, which will permit remote sharing of evidence, videoconferencing, and remote court interpreting.
This is a wonderful thing. As the Brooklyn Daily Eagle story explains:
“This automation is overcoming barriers,” Dr. William Bell, whose organization Casey Family Programs helped pay for the ICT part in Brooklyn, said. “Barriers of language and barriers of location. Even though [someone] may be incarcerated, they can participate in a hearing about their child’s future. That is barrier that has far too long been nearly insurmountable. The fact is that we no longer have to bring people into this courtroom in chains in front of their children in order for them to have a say in their child’s life.”
Kudos to the court system for initiating these updates. (If only they could do something about the clunky, formal name for the courtroom: The Kings County Integrated Courtroom Technology Part. How about something a little snappier?)
El Paso County, Texas will convert one of its existing civil courts into a family court in 2019, in order to combat a significant backlog of family cases. The county is currently operating with 1.5 fewer full time family court judges than the number recommended by the state court administrator. It receives about 16,000 family court filings each year.
This is an excellent example of an interdependent court system engaging in proactive planning to combat resource deficiencies. The county knows that it is likely to receive many more family court cases than civil cases in the coming years, and cannot reasonably expect to receive more help in the form of full-time judges. The change both promotes efficient and effective administration of justice, and signals to the resource providers in the state legislature the need for more judgeships.