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SD Supreme Court May Open Courts To Cameras

October 6, 2010, 8:50 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

SD Supreme Court May Open Courts To Cameras
SIOUX FALLS, SD - South Dakota's Supreme Court is close to making a decision on whether to allow TV cameras in local courtrooms. 

For two years a committee of judges, attorneys, and media members have been studying the issue. Thursday the Supreme Court will listen to public testimony about the issue. 

The justices have two proposals to consider.

The first proposal will allow cameras in the courtroom only if the judge, the prosecuting attorney, and the defense attorney all agree to open up the proceeding. It's similar to the law Minnesota currently operates under.

The second proposal would presume all South Dakota courtrooms are open to cameras, unless there's a specific reason it should be closed.

Cameras have been allowed in South Dakota's Supreme Court for nine years.

"People start to feel more positive about their justice system when they actually see it happening," former KELOLAND News Director, and committee member, Mark Millage said.

Second Circuit Court administrator Karl Thoennes was on the committee studying the issue and prefers the proposal similar to Minnesota's law where all the parties have to agree to having cameras in the courtroom. 

"We always have to balance that with sensitivity to the parties," Thoennes said.

Thoennes says the proposal allows some access while still keeping the victims, defendants and the sensitive topics in the courtroom in mind. 

"I think the public would generally have that keen interest in court cases until it's your divorce in the courtroom, or your family member who has been killed, or other highly emotional situations," Thoennes said.

But, Millage says its rare to have all three parties agree to allow cameras inside the courtroom. In fact, Minnesota's Supreme Court is exploring a pilot project to expand the use of cameras because there haven't been many cases covered.

"So, South Dakota to consider a plan right now that's been in use in Minnesota for more than 30 years, and at this point Minnesota is moving on to something better, really doesn't move us forward," Millage said.

Millage supports the proposal that presumes all South Dakota courtrooms are open. He says more access allows for more accurate reporting.

"Cameras can more accurately portray what happens in a court of law. It's one thing as a reporter to say someone said something, it's a whole different to actually show it," Millage said.

Arguments the South Dakota Supreme Court will consider before opening up the courtroom to cameras. 

South Dakota is one of only 15 states in the country that still has restrictive laws that essentially ban cameras in local courtrooms.

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