Iowa Expands Court Coverage Options

Created: 05/01/2014 6:23 PM

(ABC 6 NEWS) -- It's a debate that's been around for years.

For decades, the state of Iowa has allowed cameras in its courtrooms, and today the state of Iowa today expanded the guidelines for media coverage of court proceedings ... and it has renewed the discussion over the differences between Iowa and Minnesota.

"I'm somewhat in the middle of that debate," said Mower County Judge Donald Rysavy. “I think in most situations I would be against it."

Judge Donald Rysavy has served on the Mower County bench for 18 years, and says he could see some situations where camera coverage could be beneficial.

"I think from an educational standpoint, to actually understand how court sessions go, what is actually happening,"Rysavy said.

The Minnesota county attorney's association has long been opposed to cameras in the court room, citing privacy concerns.

“Their position stated very briefly is that they're opposed to cameras in the courtroom," said Freeborn County Attorney Craig Nelson.  "It is generally believed by prosecutors and I think correctly believed that people who are victims of crime would not come forward and report the fact of their victimization to law enforcement."

“We are stressing so much in the court system not to re-victimize the victim, and I think cameras unfortunately might well be doing that," Judge Donald Rysavy said.

Now, under expanded rules approved by the Iowa supreme court, mobile devices like laptop computers, tablets and smartphones will also be allowed. The users must be accredited members of the media, and judges will have the latitude to limit those devices. Blogging, tweeting, and live streaming of court proceedings will also be allowed in Iowa courtrooms with proper approval.

"My concern with cameras in the courtroom across the board is you don't really have a knowledgeable commentary, and if people don't understand what is happening it's not educational, it's more reality TV," Judge Donald Rysavy told ABC 6.

"Do you believe the public's right to know is being served, given the access we have now?” we asked Freeborn county attorney Craig Nelson.
“I think that it frankly is," he told us.

Under the new regulations, Iowa judges could put limits on electronic devices and live streaming if they believed they were becoming a distraction to court proceedings.