Federal and state courts have different rules for using cameras in the courtroom.
Johnny Depp is suing his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard, for libel after her article in The Washington Post, in which she called herself a “public figure representing domestic violence.” Hurd has since filed a counterclaim against Depp, and both have publicly accused the other of domestic violence.
Videos of the trial, which gained a large audience, garnered millions of views on YouTube and TikTok, raising questions about court procedures and public access.
One tweet compared the coverage of the Depp v. Hurd trial to the trial of Gislen Maxwell, whose trial for conspiring with Jeffrey Epstein for sexual assault and trafficking in minors was not televised in December. Washington Times columnist Tim Young noted inconsistencies in the coverage of the two courts. The post has over 23,000 likes and 4,100 retweets, s some comments showing suspicious reasons for differences.
Other people on social media asked why the public did not gain the same access to Maxwell’s case.
Do all courts have the same chamber policy?
No, not all courts have the same chamber policy. Federal courts are subject to a rule that, with few exceptions, prohibits chambers in the courtroom. State and local courts are more lenient in allowing cameras in courtrooms.
WHAT WE FOUND
Federal and state courts have different rules of shooting in courtrooms.
State court rules regarding chambers vary by state and type of case. Judges can write permits to use electronic devices in cases, often with strict guidelines and additional information required of attorneys. A federal court ruling prohibits the removal of federal lawsuits, such as the Gislen Maxwell trial, from the courtroom.
This federal rule, Rule 53, states that “unless otherwise provided by statute or these rules, the court shall not allow photographs to be taken in the courtroom during a trial or broadcast from a courtroom.”
Judge Alison Nathan, who presided over Maxwell’s trial, ordered that she remain open to the alleged victims, the defendant’s family, the press and the public, according to U.S. District Court documents. Although the journalists were unable to broadcast the trial live, they were still able to take notes and share sketches of the courtroom.
This law does not apply to state courts like the one where the case of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard is being heard. State courts have more freedom as to what they can allow to broadcast. The specific rules depend on where the trial takes place. Depp v. Hurd is a civil case in Fairfax County, Virginia; it is subject to local and state laws that require only the written permission of a judge for any electronic devices such as cameras.
“Photographing, video and audio recording and / or other transmission of audio and video from the courthouse is strictly prohibited without the written permission of the court,” the Fairfax County Court’s Rules on Electronic Devices said. Virginia Penny Azcarate, a judge at Fairfax County Court hearing the Depp and Hurd case, filed an order on March 29 allowing a pool video system to be installed for the court that provides live media coverage.
The order also outlines specific provisions that will help maintain the privacy of the courtroom while allowing the public to see some parts of the trial, such as banning the recording of side conversations or conversations between attorneys and clients, attorneys and judges or turning on recorders during breaks.
The defamation lawsuit between Depp and Hurd is not the only case that is widely broadcast in state broadcasting. Other recent examples of state courts that have been broadcast include the trials of Kyle Rittenhouse and Derek Shavin.
The Digital Television News Association (RTDNA) provides a free state guide on camera procedures in the courtroom.