U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco decided this week to allow only a time-delayed Webcast. With the ruling, Walker became the second judge in the country to allow a Webcast of a trial. In late 2008 U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Gertner in Boston authorized a Webcast of the copyright infringement trial of peer-to-peer user Joel Tenenbaum, but was shot down by the appellate court.
But in that situation the 1st Circuit, which encompasses Boston, had earlier enacted rules banning broadcasts. The 9th Circuit, which includes California, recently authorized judges to allow broadcasts of civil trials that didn't involve juries.
It's long past time that courts started allowing trials to be shown online. After all, courts are open to the public and funded by it. But the reality is, most courtrooms can only accommodate a few dozen observers. Given those space constraints, the best way to actually make proceedings accessible to the public-at-large is to broadcast them.
Ominously, however, Walker only authorized a time-delayed Webcast, and not a live TV broadcast -- apparently because he thinks he can exert more power over a Webcast. "I think in view of the nature of this proceeding, it is important for this process to be completely under the court's control," he said, according to The Recorder.