Cameras in the Courts

Problem. Unjust rulings are commonplace and have severe consequences on people's lives. The societal cost is also very high; from false imprisonment to individual and taxpayer expenses for continued litigation and appeals, bad rulings cost taxpayers millions of dollars. The loss of a person's productivity, opportunities, and contribution to society is an immeasurable cost. Lives should not be routinely and irreparably harmed by a fundamental government institution. If police officers are required to have cameras, why shouldn’t judges?

Solution. Install electronic court recording systems in all courtrooms. Files are uploaded to a public server, managed by both the judiciary and an independent third party. All files, unless otherwise sealed or confidential, are available to any member of the public for review and download at a nominal fee.

Electronic court reporting will have the following benefits:

  1. Increase fairness. A recorded judicial officer is less likely to make unjust rulings or to engage in unethical behavior. This will have the added benefit of reducing individual and  taxpayer expenses of continued litigation and appeals caused by unjust rulings.
  2. Reduce court reporting expenses by millions of dollars annually. Courts are required to employ court reporters for certain proceedings, including all criminal and juvenile proceedings. The  annual median salary for court reporters in California is approximately $83,000. Counties hire numerous court reporters to transcribe required proceedings. Electronic file storage costs a fraction of conventional court reporting, which will save taxpayers millions of dollars annually. Further, a nominal fee can be charged to download an electronic transcript, which will pay for the costs of storage and oversight. Court reporters will still be needed for certain circumstances under which a certified written transcript is required.
  3. Reduce individual expenses and increase access to justice. For proceedings where a court reporter is not provided (e.g. family law proceedings), most litigants cannot afford the $200 - $500+ cost to hire a reporter. Successfully appealing an unjust ruling is virtually impossible without a transcript. Access to justice should not depend on an individual's finances.
  4. More accurate drafting of orders. In many cases, court orders must be drafted by the parties following the hearing. An electronic record will allow litigants to quickly and accurately draft orders, instead of waiting days or weeks for a written transcript (if one exists). This will improve the efficiency of the judicial process by reducing disagreements about orders, which require resolution by the court.
  5. Reduce misconduct. If parties, attorneys, and judges know that proceedings are being recorded and uploaded to a searchable, public database, they are less likely to engage in misconduct or to abuse the system.

  6. Better oversight. In the event that a party, attorney, or judicial officer has engaged in misconduct, there will be an accurate record of their actions. This will improve judicial oversight and ensure that bad actors are appropriately censured.

Electronic recording can be implemented immediately, will save taxpayers millions of dollars, and will have a dramatic, positive impact on the administration of justice