New Jersey Supreme Court Considering Guidelines Concerning Use of Electronic Devices in Courtroom

The Bench Bar Media Committee of the New Jersey Supreme Court (“Committee”) has adopted, and forwarded to the Supreme Court, Guidelines for the Usage of Electronic Devices in New Jersey state courts. The proposed Guidelines comprehensively address the use of Electronic Devices in the courtroom, the common areas of a courthouse and the grounds of a courthouse. If adopted by the Supreme Court, the proposal will represent a major revision to the existing Guidelines.

The Guidelines broadly define the term “Electronic Device” as any portable device that has the capability to broadcast, record or take photographs. Acknowledging the rapid evolution in this area, the Guidelines provide that similar devices “whether now in existence or later developed” will fall within the purview of the Guidelines.

The Guidelines then define the permitted uses of Electronic Devices on the courthouse grounds, in common areas and in the courtroom.

A. COURTHOUSE GROUNDS
The Guidelines allow virtually unrestricted use of Electronic Devices, including the use of such devices for photography, recording or broadcasting, on the grounds outside the courthouse. The only caveats are security and insuring that the utilization of such devices does not interfere with ingress and egress to and from the courthouse.

B. COMMON AREAS OF THE COURTHOUSE
While in the common areas of a courthouse, any person may possess and use an Electronic Device for any purpose other than to take photographs and/or electronically record or broadcast. Utilization of Electronic Devices in the common areas for these latter purposes requires court permission. This restriction is designed to insure that the restrictions of the Guidelines on photographing, electronically recording, and/or broadcasting in the courtroom are not circumvented by engaging in those activities immediately outside the courtroom door.

C. INSIDE THE COURTROOM
For the first time since the inception of the original Guidelines, the use of Electronic Devices (other than still cameras and television cameras) is permitted in the courtroom. The Guidelines create a distinction between the use of Electronic Devices to broadcast or photograph within a courtroom and the use of such devices for all other purposes.

Utilization of an Electronic Device for purposes other than to photograph, electronically record and/or broadcast a proceeding requires the execution of an agreement (“Agreement”) to use Electronic Devices and the filing of that Agreement with the Court. Upon execution and filing of the Agreement, which is valid for one year, the person may use an Electronic Device inside a courtroom to silently take notes and/or transcribe and receive data communications in the form of text only. In addition to the execution and filing of an Agreement, however, the individual must specifically request permission from the court. The Guidelines also continue existing restrictions on photographing, recording and/or broadcasting certain images from within a courtroom, such as jurors.

D. GENERALLY
The Guidelines further provide a mechanism for attorneys desiring to utilize an Electronic Device in a courtroom for purposes other than to photograph, electronically record and/or broadcast, to do so by annually completing the Agreement and filing same with his or her New Jersey Lawyers’ Fund for Client Protection form.

Finally, in recognition that individual cases may require specific restrictions on the use of Electronic Devices, the Guidelines specifically provide that a Court retains discretion to impose such restrictions on the use of Electronic Devices necessary to implement the goals of the Guidelines, which include avoidance of interference in court proceedings and maintenance of appropriate courtroom decorum.

The Supreme Court has published for comment the proposed Guidelines which may be found on the Judiciary’s website. The comment period ends Friday, October 28, 2011. For related blog posts regarding the use of electronic devices in the courtroom, click here and here.

Thomas J. Cafferty is a Director in the Gibbons Business & Commercial Litigation Department. Nomi I. Lowy, Counsel to the Gibbons Business & Commercial Litigation Department, and Lauren James-Weir, an Associate in the Gibbons Business & Commercial Litigation Department, co-authored this post.
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