Legal Hotline - Cameras in the Courtroom
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Answers provided by
October 15, 1998
A local newspaper reporter recited an incident in a municipality wherein
an opposition candidate for a Council seat attempted to make a videotape
with a video camera of a public meeting of the Council. The Council
president indicated that that would unduly disrupt the meeting and he
ordered the videotaping to be ceased. When the opposition candidate
refused to comply, they had him removed from the meeting.
The question was whether or not the Council president's
actions were legal.
They were illegal. Case law and the Supreme Court guidelines on cameras
in the courtroom indicate that cameras are generally permissible, both
in New Jersey courtrooms, in quasi judicial hearings before municipal
bodies or agencies, and generally before any municipal bodies or
agencies in open public meetings.
In Maurice River Twp. Bd. of Ed. v. Maurice River Twp.
Teachers Ass'n, 193 N.J. Super. 488 (A.D.1984) a teachers' union
videotaped open public meetings of a board of education, to which the
board of education objected. In the first instance, there were bright
lights on the cameras which the board asserted to the courts were
obtrusive, disconcerting, and prejudicial to the good order required of
the meeting. But after the first videotaping, these lights were removed
and only one videotaping camera was used, silent and unobtrusive.
The teachers' union was granted summary judgment at the
Superior Court trial level and the Appellate Division affirmed. The
basic ruling of the Appellate Division was that tape recording or
videotape recording of municipal meetings must be allowed, albeit it can
be regulated such as to keep good order. The municipal agency or board
can adopt regulations such as to see that the cameras are basically
silent in their operation, that there are no disconcerting lights, etc.
— much like the camera guidelines on the appendix to Section I of the
Rules of Court established by our Supreme Court.
And while the Appellate Division noted that the Supreme
Court guidelines for cameras in the more formalistic Superior Court
actions allowed for cameras by media only, the Appellate Division saw no
reason to apply such restrictions to municipal agency meetings wherein
the necessity for regulation is less stringent. In effect, the Appellate
Division reasoned that while there is no constitutional right to
videotaping, there is no constitutional bar to it either. And since our
Supreme Court allows cameras, under regulation, in our criminal trials
and in general most other trials--where the need for decorum, formality,
and strict adherence to rules of procedure is greater, there is no valid
reason for disallowing the use of cameras or tape recordings of
June 18, 2004
May a zoning board of adjustment ban the videotaping of its meetings
by members of the public?
No. The courts have said a public body may not ban videotaping
but may adopt rules for videotaping to minimize the interference
with the meeting, similar to the rules for cameras in courtrooms.
See Maurice River Twp. Bd. of Educ. v. Maurice River Twp. Teachers
Assn. 193 N.J. Super. 488 (App. Div. 1984)
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