By Katie MulvaneyJournal Staff Writer
PROVIDENCE — U.S. District Court in Rhode Island has passed a new rule aimed at preventing blogging and tweeting in the courtroom.
The court late last month approved changes to the rules governing the Rhode Island court that banned the transmission of any proceeding, unless otherwise authorized by the court. The rule previously prohibited all photographing, recording or broadcasting any proceedings, other than ceremonial events by permission. The court has now added a catchall phrase than bans any “other” transmission.
“Right now, the court takes a very conservative view,” said David A. DiMarzio, clerk of the court. Only lawyers are allowed to bring cell phones into the courtroom.
The Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union had objected to the change, cautioning it could stop the use of new technology “in its tracks without the careful consideration it deserves on a case-by-case basis.” Steven Brown, executive director of the ACLU's state affiliate, noted in a letter to the court that other courts throughout the country have begun allowing members of the media to “tweet” from the courtroom in high-profile cases. Those updates were then posted on the websitewww.Twitter.com for the public to follow.
The court's rules leave room for an individual to request that the rule be lifted, but that person must prove “that exceptional circumstances exist in which application of a rule would create an injustice or undue hardship.”
“For someone to make an exception, the standard would be very high,” DiMarzio said. The person would have to show “there was no reasonable alternative available to address a situation.”
In a letter to the ACLU, Chief U.S. District Judge Mary M. Lisi wrote that the change was designed to cover new technologies that “might not comfortably fit within the definition of ‘broadcasting.' ”
It is in keeping with a 1994 national policy that “does not allow courtroom proceedings in civil and criminal proceedings in the district courts to be broadcast, televised, recorded or photographed for the purpose of public dissemination,” she wrote. “Until that policy is changed, we will continue to prohibit any activity that might possibly fall within the scope of that prohibition.”
Lisi said, however, that the court would continue to review the rules for improvements and refinements as technology evolves.
The court also instituted a rule that allows lawyers to request that certain information be blocked from court records available over the Internet. The ACLU had raised concerns that the rule, if approved, would give parties the right to ask the court to have details other than personal identifiers stricken from court transcripts, and that it could indefinitely delay public access to court records over the Internet.
While all federal courts are required to hide an individual's Social Security number, birth dates and minors' names from publicly accessible court records, the new rule clears the way for parties here to ask that other information be blacked out from transcripts. Until the court rules, the transcript would not be available online.
Lisi wrote the ACLU that the rule had been a local and national policy for 2½ years and was being formally incorporated into the rules.
“We consider such requests for additional redaction to be the exceptional situation,” Lisi wrote. The court had received only two requests in the past years, she said.