A novel social media / legal experiment is taking place a few miles and minutes from where I am sitting. As of yesterday, anyone with an internet connection can “see” what is happening in the Quincy District Court. Cameras and microphones are operating in the court’s criminal session and proceedings are being streamed live over the Internet at the new website created solely for the project. The project is run by NPR local affiliate WBUR and is being funded by Knight Media and is called, appropriately enough, OpenCourt.us. The goal is to improve transparency and understanding of the judicial process and, hopefully, strengthen “ties” between the public and their courts.
These “ties” include court reporting. In the courtroom there is an operating Wi-Fi network and a space reserved for “citizen bloggers” to share the news with the Internet via blogs, tweets, even Facebook.
The project is not without limitations. The Judge can decide when to shut the camera off, when the need arises. Or to comply with existing court rules or maintain privacy in domestic violence cases. To protect attorney-client communications, there are “privacy” zones in the court room, free from electronic eyes and ears.
If matters proceed positively, the Project partners plan to extend it to other sessions, civil matters and small claims. Because everyone needs to know what is happening in small claims.
All sarcasm aside, I find this project fascinating. In an age where we are constantly admonished not to tweet or reach out where court is concerned (or even are barred from bringing smartphones and laptops into the court room in parts of New York), the Quincy Court’s about-face is somewhat startling. My short answer is that I am all for openness and transparency. But I do wonder what indirect effects the knowledge of constant, anonymous on-line viewing might have on the parties, their counsel and court personnel.
We shall see.