Judge rules out TV for closing arguments in Prop. 8 hearing

Federal Judge Vaughn Walker denied a media request to televise arguments in the California same-sex marriage trial without providing reasons for his decision. -db

San Francisco Chronicle
June 10, 2010
By Bob Egelko

SAN FRANCISCO — The only members of the public who will get to watch next week’s closing arguments in the trial over same-sex marriage in California will be the ones who make it to the courthouse.

Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker issued a brief order today denying a request by media organizations to televise the arguments, scheduled to last all day Wednesday in San Francisco. The organizations included Hearst Corp., which owns The Chronicle.

Two same-sex couples and the city of San Francisco have sued to overturn Proposition 8, the November 2008 initiative that amended the California Constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Walker, who heard 12 days of testimony in January, had proposed to televise the trial proceedings live to several federal courthouses around the nation and record them for a delayed Internet posting on YouTube.

But the U.S. Supreme Court pulled the plug, saying Walker hadn’t given the public enough time to comment on the proposed change in court rules. The court also cited claims by Prop. 8’s sponsors that showing the proceedings outside the courthouse might intimidate witnesses.

In their request to Walker last month to allow camera coverage of the closing arguments, the media organizations noted the high public interest in the trial and said televising a hearing that included only lawyers and the judge shouldn’t raise any concerns about intimidating witnesses.

But Prop. 8’s sponsors opposed a telecast, telling Walker that cameras have “negative effects on some judges and attorneys, including distraction, grandstanding and avoidance of unpopular decisions or positions.”

Walker did not spell out his reasons for denying the media request. The arguments will still be shown on closed-circuit TV, but only in an overflow courtroom at the San Francisco courthouse at 450 Golden Gate Ave.

Copyright 2010 Hearst Communications Inc.