OGDEN -- Effective April 1, video cameras will be allowed in state courtrooms for the first time, via new rules from the state judiciary.
News agencies will still need to ask for prior permission, but for the first time, the state's Code of Judicial Administration says the "presumption" in the law is that the cameras are allowed.
Previously, the presumption was they are not, but judges could grant requests, which have become routine now for trials and other hearings in the state district courts.
Now the presumption is that video coverage for such proceedings is permitted, limited to one video operator per session.
Also new is the requirement that, if the judge denies or restricts the camera request, the judge must publicly announce the reasons for the decision, orally or in writing, according to the report of the Judicial Council Study Committee on Technology in the Courtroom.
The study committee, appointed by the Utah Judicial Council, spent a year researching and developing the new rule.
Led by the Utah Supreme Court, the council is the board of directors for the state Administrative Office of the Courts. Associate Supreme Court Justice Jill Parrish, formerly an Ogden lawyer, chaired the study committee.
But if the public comment section in the committee's report is any indicator, some judges are still resistant to the idea.
Among 20-plus comments published as an addendum to the report, Davis County 2nd District Judge Thomas Kay is one of the new rule's harshest critics.
Kay invokes former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi's criticisms of televising the mid-1990s murder trial of O.J. Simpson.
The trial was marred, Kay said, by lawyers and other parties playing to the cameras and otherwise altering their behavior in the "circus atmosphere" the broadcasting created to the point Judge Lance Ito was inviting celebrities in attendance to meet with him in chambers.
Three judges -- John Walton, Michael Westfall and Rand Beacham (who has since retired) -- in Utah's 5th District, based in St. George, signed off on a letter saying the change fixes a problem that didn't exist.
It also does nothing to "increase the quality of justice for those who appear in our courtrooms," they wrote.
In praising the new video access, lawyer Mike O'Brien, of the Utah Media Coalition, said, "It would vault Utah into the position of having some of the most open and accessible courtrooms in the nation."
A roundup of the laws in the other 49 states done for the study committee moves Utah from among the most restrictive states to among the most accessible.
The report by the Radio & Television Digital News Association lists New York, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia as jurisdictions that allow no video coverage in trial courts.
Thirteen states were listed as so demanding in approvals -- such as requiring written clearances of witnesses to have their picture recorded, or five days' advance notice and other restrictions -- as to "essentially prevent coverage."
Those states are Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Dakota and, formerly, Utah.