(San Francisco, CA, ) – Today, U.S. District Court Chief Judge James Ware ordered the public release of the video recording of the historic trial in Perry v. Brown. In that trial, which took place in January 2010, two same-sex couples challenged Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that stripped the freedom to marry from same-sex couples in California. Following the trial, now-retired Chief District Judge Vaughn Walker ruled in August 2010 that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. That ruling has been on hold while the proponents of Prop 8 appeal Judge Walker’s ruling.
The Prop 8 proponents have fought to prevent the public from viewing the official video recording of the trial. The couples who are challenging Prop 8 filed a motion seeking to unseal the video recording, and Chief Judge Ware heard the motion on August 29. The City and County of San Francisco and Media Coalition members, including the Los Angeles Times, CNN, The New York Times, FOX News, NBC News, and The Associated Press, joined the plaintiffs in asking the court to release the videotape of the public trial.
In today’s 14 page ruling, Chief Judge Ware said that public access to trials and court records are “[f]oremost among the aspects of the federal judicial system that foster public confidence in the fairness and integrity of the process.” (Read Order embedded below)
Judge Ware ordered that the video recordings be made public on September 30, 2011, unless a further delay is ordered by the district court or a higher court.
Judge Ware concluded that “no compelling reasons exist for continued sealing of the digital recording of the trial.”
The court record indicates that Judge Walker did not limit the recordings to chambers use only, Ware ruled. Furthermore, unsealing the videos would not interfere with a previous Supreme Court injunction prohibiting live broadcast of the trial, he wrote.
“Although the Court acknowledges that significant public policy concerns are implicated in allowing cameras in federal courtrooms, nothing in this Order speaks to the broader question of whether district court trials should be recorded or broadcast,” Ware wrote. “Rather, this Order solely addresses the narrow question of whether the digital recording in this case, which is in the record, should now be unsealed pursuant to the common law right of access to court records. The Court answers that question in the affirmative, without addressing any of the larger questions that may potentially arise from circumstances similar to this case.”
NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, Esq announced – “Judge Ware’s ruling is a great victory for openness and transparency. Our democracy depends on the public’s right to know what takes place inside our nation’s federal courts, especially in cases addressing fundamental constitutional rights that affect every person. The proponents of Prop 8 should be ashamed for fighting to bar public access to this historic trial.” The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education. www.NCLRights.org
Posted by Melanie Nathan
Photo: Prop 8 Plaintiffs: by Kristina Lapinski©