HOD discusses cameras in courtroom, social host law

Issue June 2011 By Tricia M. Oliver

The Massachusetts Bar Association House of Delegates convened for the final time this association year on May 18 at the Sheraton Boston as part of this year's Centennial Conference. Among the topics covered were cameras in the courtroom and the social host law. The ceremonial presentation of the gavel from outgoing MBA President Denise Squillante to President-elect Richard P. Campbell also took place.

Present to lead the discussion on cameras in the court were WBUR Executive Editor of New Media John Davidow and Supreme Judicial Court Associate Justice Robert J. Cordy, co-chair of the SJC Judiciary-Media Committee. They shared with the group the nature of and logistics related to the pilot project involving live streaming video in Quincy District Court, made possible through WBUR-FM with funding from the Knight Foundation. They also spoke to the broader concept of cameras in the courtroom.

According to Cordy, it is "not whether this is going to happen, but rather how we can manage it."

Delegates watched and listened to a portion of the court proceedings through the live feed at www.opencourt.us, which is made viewable or not, based on the judge's discretion given safety and privacy issues with each case.

"It's not the project that controls the camera, it's the judge," explained Davidow.

Many delegates offered comments for and against expanding the project beyond the Quincy court. Concerns were raised relative to cameras in the courtroom contributing to misinformation; taking one step of the judicial process out of context (i.e. an arraignment); putting judges' safety in jeopardy; and weakening judicial independence. Those who supported such access pointed to the constitutional right of access and the educational and awareness value to the public. For more information on this topic, see the President's Message on page 1.

Following a PowerPoint presentation on the topic of strengthening the state's social host law to ensure civil liability is well defined alongside criminal law, delegates unanimously voted to support Campbell's proposed legislation. 

Other business included:

  • Approval of the 2011-12 report of the Nominating Committee that included the following officer slate for the MBA's next association year: President-elect Robert L. Holloway Jr.; Treasurer Douglas K. Sheff; Vice Presidents Jeffrey N. Catalano and Marsha Kazarosian; and Secretary Robert W. Harnais. Current MBA President-elect Campbell automatically ascends to president on Sept. 1, 2011.
  • Chief Legal Counsel and Chief Operating Officer Martin W. Healy provided an overview of a particularly busy legislative session. Healy explained the MBA's support of the House version of court reform, but stressed concern over the Senate version; announced that the Senate's version of the state budget reveals a $25 million shortfall of last year's appropriation to fund the courts and called on delegates to reach out to legislators on the importance of adequate court funding; and reminded the House of the MBA's efforts on health care reform and the much-anticipated alimony reform (see page 25 for related article).
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee Co-Chair Katherine Hesse provided an informational report on the Uniform Collaborative Law Act.
  • Criminal Justice Chair Michael Fabbri and Vice Chair Radha Natarajan presented the Report of the Standing Advisory Committee on the Rules of Criminal Procedure pertaining to Rule 7. Two major revisions - one eliminating the initial appearance as a step prior to arraignment and another eliminating the procedure that allows defendants who have retained counsel to avoid appearing at their arraignment - were included in the report and received delegates' support.

Prior to the close of the May 18 meeting, Squillante passed the ceremonial gavel to Campbell. Following the traditional exercise, Campbell offered remarks that highlighted Squillante's many contributions to the MBA, not only during the present association year, but in her years of service leading up to the MBA's centennial year.

"What a president she has been," said Campbell.