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Assistant News Director, WMBD-TV Peoria
By LISA LEFF
Associated Press Writer
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - The federal trial on the constitutionality of California's same-sex marriage ban beginning next week will be videotaped and uploaded to a video-sharing Web site, the presiding judge ruled Wednesday.
Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, who first floated the idea of broadcasting the highly anticipated proceedings live several months ago, said he decided instead to have court employees record the trial for delayed broadcast on the YouTube Web site.
Walker did not explicitly say why he favored a system that could keep the proceedings from being aired for hours instead of one that allowed for simultaneous broadcast. But he said he felt strongly that ``it's important for the transmission to be absolutely within the court's control.''
It will be the first federal trial in a Western state and one of only a handful nationwide to be taped and aired in public in any form. It also will be the first federal trial on whether denying gays the right to wed constitutes unlawful discrimination to be taped and offered to the public.
The governing body for federal courts in the West recently approved a pilot program that would for the first time allow cameras in civil trials being decided by judges.
Walker said the case's national importance was one of the reasons he was keen to have the proceedings recorded and viewed by as many people as possible as a giant civics lesson.
``I always thought that if people could see how the judiciary really works, they would take a somewhat different view of it,'' he said.
The plan that Walker outlined Wednesday needs to be approved by the chief judge of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, but such approval seemed likely since that same judge announced the pilot program a mere weeks ago knowing of Walker's interest in having the gay marriage case viewed by audiences outside his courtroom.
Walker said the trial would be streamed live in an overflow room at the federal courthouse, as well as to the 9th Circuit's courthouses in San Francisco; Pasadena, Calif., Seattle; and Portland, Ore. He said he also had received requests for live feeds from two federal courthouses in Illinois.
Lawyers representing the sponsors of the state's voter-approved gay marriage ban, known as Proposition 8, opposed broadcasting the trial in any form, arguing that witnesses might be intimidated or harassed because of the high emotions surrounding the gay marriage issue.
Walker said he would consider requests at trial to black out the video if individual witnesses object to being recorded.
A coalition of print and broadcast news organizations, including The Associated Press, had encouraged Walker to let a single broadcast media company record the proceedings and make them immediately available to other news outlets. But Walker said he wanted only court employees sitting behind the three video cameras that would be set up in his courtroom, in part so he could decide to pull the plug on the broadcast experiment if it turned out to be interference or a distraction.
Thomas Burke, a media lawyer who represented the news organizations, called Walker's decision an important first step in increasing public access to judicial proceedings of significant interest.
Burke said it was his understanding that staffing and equipment limitations ruled out a live broadcast.
``I did not hear anything from the judge suggesting that's a delay he wants,'' Burke said.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
APNT 01-06-10 2150CST