Justice Dale Sandstrom, Chair
Judge Douglas Herman
Justice Sandstrom called the meeting to order at 1:18 p.m. and gave opening remarks. Commission members introduced themselves.
Lots were drawn to determine term lengths. Sean Foss, Tom Gerhardt, and Judge Herman will serve 3-year terms; David Bliss, Justice Sandstrom, and Dwayne Walker will serve 2-year terms; and Jack McDonald, Pamela Nesvig, and Jim Shaw will serve 1-year terms.
Jack McDonald gave a brief history of Administrative Rule 21. North Dakota’s rule, adopted in 1984, was based on the rule adopted by the state of Florida. Among concerns expressed at the time were the need for judges to maintain complete control of their courtrooms and to have the authority to stop media coverage at any time during any court proceeding.
Judge Herman distributed copies of additional guidelines adopted by the East Central Judicial District for media coverage that are used in conjunction with Rule 21.
Discussion ensued concerning problems that have arisen with new technologies, including the new high-definition television cameras. Camera operators used to be able to easily feed video to others with the old technology, but the new cameras don’t allow them to share feeds. Bismarck has been using two cameras.
Members discussed what constitutes a camera these days. News outlets are increasingly multi-media. Forum reporters produce video now. Cell phones and tablets can be used to take photographs. Should reporters be allowed to take notes on iPads or tablets? Should computers and tablets be treated differently? Some differentiate between reporters in the media using electronic devices and someone’s personal use of these items.
The widespread use of cell phones, iPads, and tablets brings up several questions: Should anyone in the courtroom be able to record audio and video of the proceedings? Who is qualified to be considered part of the media? Do blogs and alternative print publications qualify? What about social media? Should people be allowed to tweet what is happening in Court? Should live broadcasts be allowed?
Mr. McDonald said problems have arisen with having to notify all counsel 72 hours in advance when the media has put in a request to cover a Supreme Court oral argument. Trial courts require one week’s notice. Odyssey makes filing media requests more complicated than it was when one could just fax a request over to the court. It’s hard to do on short notice, especially with preliminary hearings. It hasn’t been possible to file requests through Odyssey for initial appearances. Could the use of Odyssey be waived for these? There’s a need to fashion a different rule for media to cover preliminary or initial appearances. Odyssey also makes it harder to notify defendants.
Blanket approval is preferable to cover an entire case to avoid the media’s having to repeatedly file requests to cover each individual court hearing. Judges can always ask the media to leave for any non-public hearings.
Setting up equipment several hours or a day in advance creates problems that the current rule doesn’t address.
Does the rule need to be changed to allow live coverage? Ms. Nesvig pointed out that in a jury trial, live blogging or tweeting would bring up security concerns for witnesses. A time delay would be safer. Judges need to be able to control media access to protect jurors and witnesses.
Changes to Rule 21 will need to be considered to reflect the changes in technology that have occurred since the Rule’s adoption in 1984. Justice Sandstrom said he will have staff prepare in legislative format draft revisions to the rule, and the draft will be distributed well before the next meeting. Committee members and others are invited to submit other proposed revisions in legislative format.
Members agreed to meet on November 26 at 1:15 p.m.
The meeting adjourned at 3:45 p.m.