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Legal Hotline - Cameras in the Courtroom


CAUTION: Because the law is constantly evolving, it is important before relying upon any opinion on this website that you check with the hotline counsel to ascertain whether or not there has been any subsequent change or supplementation to the law since the date of the opinion.

Answers provided by NJPA's Legal Counsel.

 

October 15, 1998

Question:
A local newspaper reporter recited an incident in a municipality wherein an opposition candidate for a Council seat attempted to make a videotape with a video camera of a public meeting of the Council. The Council president indicated that that would unduly disrupt the meeting and he ordered the videotaping to be ceased. When the opposition candidate refused to comply, they had him removed from the meeting.

 

The question was whether or not the Council president's actions were legal.

 

Answer:
They were illegal. Case law and the Supreme Court guidelines on cameras in the courtroom indicate that cameras are generally permissible, both in New Jersey courtrooms, in quasi judicial hearings before municipal bodies or agencies, and generally before any municipal bodies or agencies in open public meetings.

 

In Maurice River Twp. Bd. of Ed. v. Maurice River Twp. Teachers Ass'n, 193 N.J. Super. 488 (A.D.1984) a teachers' union videotaped open public meetings of a board of education, to which the board of education objected. In the first instance, there were bright lights on the cameras which the board asserted to the courts were obtrusive, disconcerting, and prejudicial to the good order required of the meeting. But after the first videotaping, these lights were removed and only one videotaping camera was used, silent and unobtrusive.

 

The teachers' union was granted summary judgment at the Superior Court trial level and the Appellate Division affirmed. The basic ruling of the Appellate Division was that tape recording or videotape recording of municipal meetings must be allowed, albeit it can be regulated such as to keep good order. The municipal agency or board can adopt regulations such as to see that the cameras are basically silent in their operation, that there are no disconcerting lights, etc. much like the camera guidelines on the appendix to Section I of the Rules of Court established by our Supreme Court.

 

And while the Appellate Division noted that the Supreme Court guidelines for cameras in the more formalistic Superior Court actions allowed for cameras by media only, the Appellate Division saw no reason to apply such restrictions to municipal agency meetings wherein the necessity for regulation is less stringent. In effect, the Appellate Division reasoned that while there is no constitutional right to videotaping, there is no constitutional bar to it either. And since our Supreme Court allows cameras, under regulation, in our criminal trials and in general most other trials--where the need for decorum, formality, and strict adherence to rules of procedure is greater, there is no valid reason for disallowing the use of cameras or tape recordings of municipal meetings.

June 18, 2004

Question:
May a zoning board of adjustment ban the videotaping of its meetings by members of the public?

Answer:
No.  The courts have said a public body may not ban videotaping but may adopt rules for videotaping to minimize the interference with the meeting, similar to the rules for cameras in courtrooms.
See Maurice River Twp. Bd. of Educ. v. Maurice River Twp. Teachers Assn. 193 N.J. Super. 488 (App. Div. 1984)
 

The Hotline is operated by NJPA's General Counsel, Tom Cafferty of Gibbons P.C.  Cafferty has served in this capacity for more than 30 years and has extensive First Amendment and communication law expertise. The Hotline is available to all publications that are active members of the New Jersey Press Association.

To reach the Hotline:

Call (973) 596-4863 The regular hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but callers may leave a recorded message 24 hours per day on a dedicated voice-mail line. The Hotline attorneys will return all calls as soon as possible.
Fax: (973) 639-6267  
Write: NJPA Legal Hotline, c/o Gibbons P.C., One Gateway Center, Newark, NJ 07102-5310

E-mail: tcafferty@gibbonslaw.com

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