The Hoosier State Press Association hopes to convince the state’s judiciary to draft guidelines regarding electronic devices in trial courtrooms.
While the Indiana Supreme Court prohibits broadcasting sound or images from trial proceedings, the courts lack a statewide policy about the use of laptops or smartphones to type story notes or tweet updates, for example.
“There currently is no rhyme or reason to the broad spectrum of courtroom policies in place,” said Steve Key, HSPA executive director and general counsel. “Some judges allow reporters to use electronic devices to write stories while sitting in the gallery, but I’m told cell phones are banned from the Allen County courthouse.”
Key has requested that LaPorte Superior Court 1 Judge Kathleen Lang, chairwoman of the judiciary’s community relations committee, work with her fellow justices to adopt guidelines for the use of electronic devices in courtrooms.
A list of best practices would be helpful for trial court judges faced with requests for permission to use smartphones, iPads and laptops by reporters or other observers during courtroom proceedings, Key said.
“A set of well-reasoned device guidelines would move the state to greater consistency while recognizing that judges still have the inherent power to control their own courtroom or deviate from an accepted policy when a particular case might warrant greater restrictions,” Key said.
The ability to take notes, write a story or transmit a news alert by a reporter from the courtroom would help print and broadcast media make better use of time and allow for faster delivery of breaking court news to readers and viewers.
In some situations, a reporter must make hand-written notes, wait for recess to exit the courtroom, retrieve a laptop from his or her car, transcribe the notes or write a story from them, upload the information for the newsroom, and hustle back to the courtroom before the doors shut for the next session.
HSPA appreciates the intent of a ban on capturing video or audio but doesn’t believe it should prevent reporters from using electronic devices to take notes or write stories.