Appeals courts reject uniform audio rules

February 11, 2015 11:00

The committee overseeing federal appeals court administration has rejected a call by the Coalition for Court Transparency, of which RTDNA is a member, to develop uniform rules for the release of audio recordings of court proceedings.

Judge William Terrell Hodges, chairman of the Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management, wrote to the Coalition for Court Transparency this week to announce that the committee had denied the coalition’s request that audio files of all federal appeals court hearings be placed online the same day a hearing is held.

“Our Committee considered this suggestion at its December 2014 meeting but decided not to recommend a policy change with respect to posting audio of appellate arguments at this time,” Judge Hodges wrote.

He added: “Over the past two decades every federal court of appeals has adopted rules or policies that make audio recordings available to the public in some form, and our Committee felt, in view of those developments, that the courts should be allowed to develop procedures in this important area at their own pace, taking into account individual circumstances as they exist in each of the circuits.”

“We are pleased that the Judicial Conference considered our request,” said Alex Armstrong, spokesperson for the Coalition for Court Transparency. “We are, however, disappointed that the committee declined to recommend a policy change. While some federal appellate courts have embraced technology and transparency in some capacity, too many U.S. courts are simply inaccessible to the American public. The status quo is unacceptable, and the Coalition for Court Transparency will continue to advocate for a more open and accountable judiciary. We are hopeful that the Judicial Conference will reconsider this policy in the future.”

“Aside from openness, the next most important expectation from our courts is judicial consistency,” said Mickey H. Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, a member of the Coalition for Court Transparency. “The fact that the chair of the Judicial Conference Committee is willing to allow disparate results in the circuits regarding the release of audio files fails to provide the predictability we expect in the fair administration of justice.”

“Allowing each circuit to act at its own pace will undoubtedly perpetuate needless delays,” said Mike Cavender, Executive Director of the Radio Television Digital News Association, also a coalition member. “With today’s technology, the public should be able to hear its courts at work without having to file a motion.”

Currently, eight of the 13 federal circuits (3rd, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, D.C. and Federal) post argument audio online the day of a hearing. Of the remaining five, two (1st and 4th) try to upload an audio file within 24 hours of oral argument. Meanwhile the 2nd and 11th Circuits require that interested parties purchase the audio, and the 10th Circuit requires a motion be filed to acquire a recording.

A complete breakdown of current audio/visual policies for U.S. Courts of Appeals is available on the coalition’s website.