Susan Clary: Justice England saw the benefits of cameras in courtrooms

 The six years that Justice Arthur J. England, Jr. served on the Florida Supreme Court in the late 1970s could have been unremarkable.

By the time he ran for the seat, he had graduated the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of business with honors, served in the U.S. Army counter-intelligence and been a close legal adviser to Gov. Reuben Askew.

Running a campaign out of his garage, he became Florida’s first Jewish justice on Jan. 6, 1975 with 58 percent of the vote. But England wasn’t content to simply sit on the bench. He was a pioneer and an innovator.

At his memorial service last week, dignitaries such as Askew and Talbot “Sandy” D’Alemberte remembered England for rescuing the courts from a period of scandal.

England, who died on Aug. 1 at age 80, was most proud of creating a national program providing legal aid to the poor with interest from lawyer trust accounts.

While those achievements are significant, England’s most critical accomplishment was in leading Florida to become the first state in the country to allow cameras in the courtroom.

Cameras were banned from courtrooms after the 1935 trial of Bruno Hauptmann, a German immigrant accused of kidnapping and murdering the infant son of Charles Lindbergh. It had been dubbed a “media circus.”  The American Bar Association banned cameras after 130 photographers descended on Fleming, N.J. for the trial.

England knew freedom of the press was the bedrock of the First Amendment and cameras were its future. Promoting this freedom in the post-Watergate era was essential to England’s objective of an open and ethical judiciary.

The Court did not decide the Post-Newsweek camera case, filed by D’Alemberte in 1975, until 1979 when England was chief justice.

On the 30th anniversary of the decision, England recounted a little-known story of what led him and fellow Justice Alan Sundberg to pen a report recommending a pilot program allowing media access to all Florida courts.

It was difficult to determine in those days whether cameras would disrupt a courtroom because a test required the consent of all parties, jurors and witnesses.

Finally, Post-Newsweek invited the justices to Jacksonville for a demonstration of new, no-light camera equipment that was proposed for use in Florida. All parties had consented for trial.

Justices England and Sundberg were driving from Tallahassee to Jacksonville when one of the attorneys withdrew his client’s consent. With no cell phones at the time, they learned of the cancellation when they arrived at the courthouse.

The justices went ahead and listened to a presentation on the equipment and were impressed. Armed with the new information, they returned and recommended to their colleagues a yearlong experiment.

With “fingers crossed,” England and Sundberg waited. The highly successful year that followed led the Court to approve cameras. The court ruled that cameras would be allowed in courtrooms and their use was not dependent on the consent of any of the participants. The presiding judge could set the rules for use.

An irony of the story was not lost on England. New technology made cameras unobtrusive in courtrooms. But if cell-phone technology had been invented in the 1970s, the two justices may never have arrived in Jacksonville and been educated about the new sophisticated cameras.

If they had never witnessed the demonstration, it is likely the Court would not have approved the experimental year. Today, all 50 states allow cameras in the courtroom. In some states, all parties must agree to allow them.

We have witnessed thousands of televised trials from O.J. Simpson in 1994 to Casey Anthony in 2011. Court TV and television shows such as Dateline, 20/20 and 48 Hours have educated the masses about the legal system.

We should remember Justice England for pulling the court out of scandal, for promoting cutting-edge programs and for his bold leadership. We need more leaders like him.

Susan Clary



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