Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Suggestions to maximize usefulness of CCA argument video

The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals will finally get cameras in the courtroom, reported the Austin Statesman, at least for purposes of recording public oral arguments. Grits disagrees with Judge Keller, who in the past opposed cameras for the CCA, that the measure of their importance will be how many people watch the videos. More important is that they are available upon demand when needed for individuals researching the court and issues before it. Grits probably won't watch all the arguments live, for example, but I'll go back and look at them when I'm covering a case, and the same goes for journalists, attorneys, legislative staff, and others with occasional-but-not-constant needs to monitor the court.

To that end, Grits would suggest a simple means to maximize the video's usefulness:

For starters, each argument's video should be presented separately. If there are two or three arguments heard in a day, segment out each of them for ease of use. Don't make us fast forward through the first case to get to the second one. Plus, if they're segmented out they could be linked on the case-page with all the briefs and opinions.

Similarly, for each recorded argument, the court should create an index declaring when discussion began, listing the attorneys and who they represent, and providing a time-stamp for when each lawyer took the microphone. That way, someone who wants to review the defense argument in a case or hear what the prosecutor had to say can find it quickly without watching the whole thing.

Watching Court of Criminal Appeals arguments will never become a popular pastime for most Texans. But they'll become more accessible if you don't have to physically go to the capitol complex to listen to them, and a marginal improvement in transparency is what to expect here, not some silver bullet.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's all about flying under the radar for the CCA. They don't want cameras, publicity, or notoriety. Just there to clean up messes for the State and keep the death machine moving forward. They have no pride in what they do and would just as soon not be known to the public.

Anonymous said...

I'm a criminal appellate lawyer. I've argued at the CCA several times, and I've watched at least a hundred arguments there. I don't think the cameras are the end of the world, but I can't imagine what your typical Texan, or even Texas lawyer, would do with the video. I operate in a the highly specialized field where CCA opinions directly influence my work, and these videos, with one exception, will be of no use to me. Oral argument isn't important in the way that lay observers (even sophisticated lay observers like you) and trial lawyers think it is. The subtle insights that can be gained are limited to the specific case, and useful only to the parties.

The one way in which they will help me is that I will be able to watch my own arguments to critique and improve my presentation skills. I don't think this slight improvement in my professional skills is worth the money the state's paying for the setup, but at least I will get some use from it.

Carl Reynolds said...

Scott, you might want to visit the civil side and see how the video is handled there. When I started working for CJ Jefferson this was his top priority. For years St. Mary's Law School handled the taping and held the archives, but some time ago the State Bar took it over. On the search screen you have to know the name of a case to look at, I used "King Street" as the search term for the recent case where the court held that Texas’s statutory ban on corporate political contributions are constitutional under the First Amendment. http://www.texasbarcle.com/CLE/TSCSearch.asp

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Thanks Carl!

@8:28, your wilted imagination is no excuse to oppose transparency. While I'm sure it's true some and possibly many attorneys will use this information just to watch themselves (that seems to be the era we live in), it would be wrong to suppose that no one else will find ways to make use of it.

I'm not an attorney at all but I've learned a lot watching oral arguments over the years - not just about the instant case and the issues surrounding it, but also about the judges, what they care about, how they interact with one another, the defense, and the government, etc.. I can think of bills filed because of judges' discussions from the dais (e.g., the 2015 update to Texas' junk science writ while Robbins III was pending). I can also remember instances when the government revealed information at oral argument that one simply couldn't know if they weren't there to watch it.

Your comments neither anticipate nor acknowledge such uses for oral argument footage. Indeed, bottom line: a practitioners' inability to view this information through any but the myopic lens of their own self interest is exactly why it's important to make video public.

The folks in the room at oral arguments like yourself seemingly don't understand the full implications of what's going on there, much less have a clear sense all the myriad interests outside the courtroom who have a stake in the process. If the video is public, it does no harm to you but gives people with secondary and tertiary uses access. That's a good thing.