A few days after the federal Judiciary’s Digital Video Pilot Project began in July 2011, the Western District of Tennessee recorded the first courtroom proceeding, a preliminary injunction hearing in a defamation case. A year and a half later, eleven of the pilot districts have recorded at least one proceeding. All fourteen districts that volunteered to be pilot courts have installed video equipment and court staff has been trained in its operation. All pilot court also have procedures in place for notifying parties of the opportunity to record courtroom proceedings, and have adopted local rules or general orders authorizing video recordings and posted them on their courts’ websites.
23 of the recorded events involved a hearing on some type of motion—for summary judgment, for attorneys fees and costs, for sanctions, etc.
14 jury trials were recorded.
Viewings of the videos of the posted proceedings totaled 116,520.
By the end of 2012, the case with the highest number of views—at 17,667—was of a trial in the Northern District of California, in which numerous citizens alleged their constitutional rights were violated by the United States government through unauthorized surveillance of their telephone and internet activity.
The Judicial Conference cameras pilot will last up to three years and is designed to evaluate the effect of cameras in district court courtrooms, video recordings of proceedings, and publication of such video recordings.
The pilot is limited to civil proceedings. Electronic media coverage of criminal proceedings in federal courts is prohibited under Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 53. In 1972, the Judicial Conference adopted a prohibition, applied to criminal and civil cases, against “broadcasting, televising, recording, or taking photographs in the courtroom and areas immediately adjacent thereto."
In 1996, the Conference rescinded its camera coverage prohibition for courts of appeals. The Second and the Ninth Circuits now allow such coverage. In the early 1990s, the Judicial Conference conducted a pilot program permitting electronic media coverage of civil proceeding in six district courts and two courts of appeals, but determined not to go forward with the use of cameras in federal district courts.