Thirteen district courts around the country will livestream audio of select proceedings in civil cases of public interest next year as part of a two-year pilot program.
Some of the courts already have begun making proceedings available via audio livestreams. The Northern District of Georgia on Dec. 7 streamed audio of a hearing on a presidential election-related lawsuit, which drew over 42,000 listeners. In September, the Eastern District of Missouri streamed audio of a status conference in the case of U.S. v. City of Ferguson. The remaining courts will be livestreaming by February 2021.
The 13 district courts participating in the pilot are in Northern California, Southern Florida, Northern Georgia, Kansas, Montana, Eastern Missouri, Nevada, Northern New York, Western Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Eastern Tennessee, Eastern Washington, and Washington D.C.
The livestreams will give the public access to real-time courtroom audio on the courts’ designated YouTube channels. Audio streaming of civil proceedings under the pilot requires the parties’ consent and is subject to the presiding judge’s discretion. The pilot excludes trials and civil proceedings involving jurors and witnesses, and also sealed, confidential, and classified materials.
While the pilot temporarily suspends a prohibition on broadcasting federal court proceedings in the designated courts, the livestreams may not be recorded or rebroadcast.
“The pilot reflects the Judiciary’s commitment to transparency and to increasing public access to court proceedings — an issue that has taken on even greater importance in the last year,” said U.S. District Judge Audrey G. Fleissig, noting that many courts have been forced to restrict public access to courthouses for health and safety reasons during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“At the same time, we want to develop the best practices for the process and ensure that any new practices do not compromise the integrity of federal court proceedings. That is why we are taking a measured and deliberative approach by working with volunteer pilot courts to test audio livestreaming and help us improve the process,” said Judge Fleissig, who chairs the Judicial Conference’s Committee on Court Administration and Case Management.
The Conference, which is the courts’ national policy-making body, authorized the test program earlier this year to study the feasibility of livestreaming audio of civil proceedings. The experience of the pilot courts will help identify livestreaming-related policy, and technical, operational, budgetary, and administrative issues that the Conference may need to resolve.