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** Courtroom Videotaping **

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  • victoryusa@jail4judges.org
    J.A.I.L. News Journal ______________________________________________________ Los Angeles, California February 7, 2006
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 7, 2006
      J.A.I.L. News Journal
      Los Angeles, California                                     February 7, 2006
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      Courtroom Videotaping

      Ready for Your Close-Up, Your Honor?

      Several states use courtroom videotaping
      to assess judges' courtroom demeanor

      By Tresa Baldas
      The National Law Journal
      February 6, 2006
      If golfers and football players use videotapes to improve their game,
      why not judges?
      That's the philosophy behind a pilot program in Massachusetts in which
      several judges were recently videotaped so they could see exactly how
      they act behind the bench.
      While cameras have long been in the courtroom documenting trial
      proceedings, this program is different in that the cameras zoom in on
      the judges, looking for blunders or improper behavior. 
      "This doesn't mean that judges are not performing well; it just means that
      we need to continue to perform well and, when necessary, perform better,"
      said Charles R. Johnson, chief justice of the Boston Municipal Court
      Department, who is reviewing 30 videotapes of judges to see where
      potential weak spots are.
      "I'm sure that the majority of the tapes will reveal that the judges are
      doing exactly what they should be doing. But it may very well reveal
      that there are judges who could improve their courtroom demeanor,"
      said Johnson, stressing that the program is not punitive but a preventative
      measure to weed out potential misimpressions.
      "You can see mistakes and say, 'Oh my God, did I do that?' or 'Did I say
       that?' But unless you have the opportunity to look back and observe your
      performance, you might miss your mistakes because a lot of people don't
       point out our mistakes. They are reluctant to point it out, and to a large
      extent we operate in isolation," Johnson said.


      According to the National Center for State Courts, just two other states
       have similar programs. Minnesota has videotaped judges since 2000, while
      New Jersey has been taping for a decade. In recent years, Oregon
      experimented with the idea. And some courts in California review
      videotaped court proceedings, but only if there's a complaint against a
      Judge Geoffrey Neithercut of Michigan's 7th Judicial Circuit Court in
      Flint, whose courtroom has been videotaped over the last decade, sees
      videotapes as a useful tool that can help keep judges and lawyers in line.
      While the 7th Circuit initially implemented cameras to save money on court
      reporters, Neithercut noted that the program has helped judges nix bad
      Specifically, he recalled a judge who was famous for using body language
      to try to influence the jury, but modified his behavior after being caught
      on tape doing so.
      "He would sigh. He would roll his eyes. He would instruct the jury and
      say, 'Now the law says we presume the defendant to be innocent,' and his
      eyes would go to the back of his head," Neithercut said. "With the video
       you could catch him in the act."
      Neithercut applauded the Massachusetts program, saying, "I think it's a
      great idea." As for his own behavior in the courtroom, he said, "I'd like
      to say I try to do the right work with or without the [video] system."
      Attorney Cynthia Gray, director of the Center for Judicial Ethics for the
      American Judicature Society, said videotapes could be a useful tool for
       judiciary review committees that have to investigate cases of judicial
      misconduct. She noted that misconduct cases saw a 29 percent increase
      in the last year, from 114 in 2004 to 147 cases in 2005.
      "I don't know if it would get rid of misconduct or not. But I always think
       it's good for judges to look at themselves and for commissions to have
      good evidence to exonerate judges or help prove misconduct," Gray said.
      In New Jersey, court officials note that videotapes help give judges the
      kind of feedback that lawyers or jurors are afraid to give.
      "When we started doing evaluations with questionnaires, no one wanted
      to tell the judge what they honestly thought, and the videotapes are pretty
       good at giving them some clear-cut feedback," said Richard Young, chief
      of the judicial education and performance unit for the New Jersey
      Administrative Office of the Courts.
      David Givens, an anthropologist who researched and videotaped judicial
       behavior for the Washington state judiciary for seven years, said
      videotapes can show potential bias in a judge.
      For example, he said, if judges compress their lips when a defendant is
      talking, it sends a signal that they don't believe the defense. Or when they
      pay attention to the prosecutor, but scribble notes when the defense lawyer
      speaks, that implies they favor the prosecution.
      Our thanks to Attorney Gary Zerman, gzerman@...,
       for bringing this to our attention.
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