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GOVERNOR BEEBE’S WEEKLY COLUMN: CAMERAS IN THE COURTROOM

September 20th, 2010 by

Of our three branches of government, most people are least familiar with the judicial branch. While voters choose the judges who sit on the Arkansas Supreme Court and Arkansas Court of Appeals, these judges keep much lower profiles than legislators or constitutional officers. Very few Arkansans will ever be personally involved in cases heard before our highest state courts, but the decisions of these courts impact the lives of all our citizens on a daily basis.

I have emphasized for years that the best way to restore the faith of our people in their government is through candor, access, and citizen involvement. This is why I was especially glad this week to take part in an announcement by the Arkansas Supreme Court, which is taking those very tenets to heart.

For the first time ever, the Court has installed cameras in their courtroom, and oral arguments heard there will now be streamed onto the Internet to be watched as they happen by anyone with a computer. There will also be an archive of previous arguments publicly accessible online.

Arkansas becomes the 15th state to offer both video Webcasting and online archives of proceedings held before its highest court. During the announcement of this new service, Justice Robert Brown said he hoped that the U.S. Supreme Court would soon take similar measures itself. With 35 states now offering some form of audio or video feed from their highest courts, it is a discussion I hope will continue on the federal level.

Beyond the Webcasting being good government on principle, I believe it will prove to be a valuable educational tool as well. With my own background in law, I have a special appreciation for the benefits this access will have for law students studying to someday argue before the Arkansas Supreme Court, or perhaps, sit in that courtroom as a Justice. Students of all ages learning about the functions and duties of our State government will also benefit, having a more directly interactive view of the workings of the Court.

Chief Justice Jim Hannah said at the announcement that, by its nature, the judiciary is slow to embrace change. The courts in our country rely on the precedent of past cases to guide their decisions, and rarely focus on the future. However, this step by the Arkansas Supreme Court recognizes the potential of technology to give our people a richer understanding of our courts while establishing a fuller record of their proceedings. Last year, Arkansas’s Supreme Court became the first in the country to make its electronic record its official record, saving significant funds and resources.

I applaud the greater access this Webcasting will bring, and encourage Arkansans to take advantage of this important resource. Whether it is for high-profile cases or routine proceedings, greater knowledge and a better understanding of our judiciary can only benefit our state and our citizens.

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