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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Florida's courtroom sunshine gets some congressional attention

For Floridians, having access to live coverage of oral arguments before the state's highest court is nothing new -- the court has allowed cameras in the courtroom since 1979 and live coverage since 1997.

But across the nation, and the world, the idea is still gaining traction and Florida is a model, according to a new report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office in Washington, released on Tuesday.

The GAO report, intended to help Congress as it studies the possibility of similar broadcasts at the U.S. Supreme Court, includes detailed information about the Florida Supreme Court’s program to broadcast all of its oral arguments. According to the Florida Supreme Court, every oral argument "has been broadcast on the Web, on cable television, and via satellite since that program began in 1997. Videos also are archived for access at any time."

The GAO report cites the cooperative relationship the court has with the taxpayer-funded Florida Channel and notes that "Florida case law establishes a presumption that coverage is allowed and requires judges to make an on-the-record finding to prohibit coverage."

The report cites how the program has been used to expand public understanding of the court system, and cites a Florida court official who stated that "high-profile, controversial cases can be misunderstood by the public and broadcasting oral arguments in their entirety can help dispel misconceptions about the case and how the court operates."

Notably, the court's live broadcast of oral arguments in the 2000 Bush v. Gore presidential election case, "helped educate the public about the judicial system and noted that it was beneficial for the public to be able to see the arguments and draw their own conclusions,'' the report said.

“It is flattering that the U.S. Congress turns to the Florida Supreme Court as it looks at ways of increasing public access to the highest court in the nation,'' ” said Chief Justice Jorge Labarga in a statement. “Considering the other courts they reviewed, it shows that we have set a world-class example.”

Cameras were permitted into Florida trial court proceedings on a limited basis starting in 1975 and, after four years of study, the court adopted its permanent rule in 1979 allowing cameras into trial and appeals court proceedings statewide.

[Last modified: Wednesday, June 1, 2016 10:13am]


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