OPEN COURTS — The only people able to watch next week's
closing arguments in the trial over same-sex marriage in California will
be the ones who are in the federal courtroom or an adjoining room linked by closed circuit television, reports Bob Egelko for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker issued a brief order Thursday
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.
The denial means "the public will again only hear about this case
second-hand," said Thomas Burke, the media groups' lawyer.
Andrew Pugno, a lawyer for sponsors of the ballot measure that banned
same-sex marriage, countered that "the purpose of the court is not to
entertain or educate the public, but to protect the right to a fair and
impartial trial." The sponsors had opposed televising any trial
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
Walker presided over the non-jury trial in January. He had proposed
to televise the trial live to several federal courthouses around the
nation and record the proceedings for a delayed Internet posting on
The telecast, which would have been the first for a federal court in
California, was blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court just before the trial
started. In a 5-4 ruling, the court said 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.
Media organizations asked Walker last month to approve televising the
closing arguments. They said that airing a hearing that included only
lawyers and the judge couldn't affect witnesses or the fairness of the
trial. But Prop. 8's backers argued that cameras can distract judges and
lawyers and prompt "grandstanding and avoidance of unpopular decisions
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