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Some Courts Ending Sale Of Hearing Dvds With Video

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As part of his trial prep work, attorney Timothy Flynn sometimes watches DVDs of Oakland County Circuit Court hearings.

He can no longer do that at his home or office.

Oakland County’s chief circuit and probate judges signed an administrative order in February that bars people from buying recordings of proceedings, ending a practice that began in the late 1980s. Other courts in the state are exploring the issue, with some citing concerns about edited videos making their way online.

Oakland Circuit Chief Judge Nanci Grant said the policy change was aimed at clearing up any confusion about courtroom videos being the official record of court proceedings. Only text transcripts generated by a court reporter are considered an official court record.

People can set up a time during business hours to watch recordings at the Oakland County courthouse. Still, some are lamenting the loss of being able to purchase their own copy.

“(The recordings) can be used for legitimate purposes, and it’s a shame that convenience is being removed,” said Flynn, a general practitioner who has an office in Clarkston. “Selective editing is bad, but not all attorneys do that.”

Oakland County is not alone. Officials in the circuit courts in Wayne and Macomb counties are reevaluating their practice of producing recordings for the public.

On Sept. 15, the Ottawa County Circuit Court stopped selling DVDs and enacted a new policy that requires people to view recordings of hearings at the courthouse, unless a judge has authorized someone to purchase one. That person must agree not to copy the recording and only allow it to be viewed under his or her direct supervision. A violation of the policy can be punished as contempt of court.

“I’m getting inquiries from court administrators all across the state, and learning that more and more courts are doing the same thing, making their videos no longer available,” Oakland Circuit Court Administrator Kevin Oeffner said.

Oeffner said recordings increasingly are being edited in ways so that the footage doesn’t fully or accurately reflect what happened in the courtroom and then posted on websites like YouTube. He said in some of the edited videos he’s seen online, people have added mean-spirited and derogatory comments about judges.


Kelly Aylsworth, trial court director for the Ottawa County Circuit Court, said the policy change there stemmed from concerns about court recordings being disseminated online. She said there is the potential for recordings to be manipulated or witnesses’ testimony about personal or embarrassing subjects used against them.

Marcia McBrien, spokeswoman for the State Court Administrative Office, said SCAO officials are exploring whether there’s a way to come up with a policy related to recordings that would accommodate public access while guarding against tampering.

“I don’t think our judges are terribly concerned about a YouTube video showing someone having a bad hair day,” she said. “I think what they’re much more concerned about (is) the possibility of the record being distorted.”

McBrien said there are some courts in Michigan that, because of staffing or other limitations, never had DVD recordings available for purchase.

Oakland County Circuit Court sold DVDs for $20 each. Oeffner said 700 to 800 were purchased annually, bringing in about $15,000 to the court, not including staff time or equipment costs associated with making the DVDs.

“I hate to give up the revenue, but on the other hand, we can’t have people altering videos and misrepresenting what happened in court,” Oeffner said.

Dan Korobkin, staff attorney for the ACLU of Michigan, said recordings of proceedings play an important role in the openness of the court system and transparency of the judicial process. He believes they should generally be available for review and purchase, except in cases when a judge rules that releasing a recording is not appropriate. 

Korobkin said it can be difficult to convey what happened in court simply by reading a transcript or describing the content of a video. He cited a case in which the ACLU was involved about a man who was jailed for contempt because of his statements that criticized the court proceedings and offended the judge.

“Sometimes, in order to truly understand that an injustice has taken place or that justice has truly been served, the public needs to see the actual event take place,” he said.

Most circuit courtrooms in Oakland County have audio and visual recording equipment, and transcripts are generated from those recordings.


Under state law, people who produce transcripts are entitled to “demand and receive per page for a transcript ordered by any person the sum of $1.75 per original page and 30 cents per page for each copy, unless a lower rate is agreed upon.”

Korobkin said for people with limited means, buying a DVD is usually much less expensive than getting a transcript.

He said transcripts, like recordings, are not tamper-proof.

“You can order a transcript from the court and alter the transcript to make a judge or a party look worse,” Korobkin said. “There’s always a risk that someone’s going to be unethical or dishonest with a public record.”

Grant, Oakland Circuit’s chief judge, said there has been some confusion over the years about the video recordings being the official record of the court, and that was the driving force behind the change.

“We’re certainly not depriving people access to their videos. If they want to come in and see them, they can certainly do that,” she said.

Before a big trial, Flynn would sometimes watch DVDs to scope out his opposing counsel or review past hearings in the case. He said he could get a DVD faster than the two or three weeks it takes to produce a transcript.

Having the DVD was an easy, informal way for attorneys to resolve disputes about what happened in court, he said.

Flynn, who has posted videos of himself in court online, also said the recordings were a valuable marketing tool.


“I’m one for the complete, open and free flow of information, particularly digital information,” Flynn said. “I understand where their policy comes from, but I do disagree with it. The digital video shows the human dimension of what happens in a courtroom.”

Oeffner said since May 1, there have been 95 instances of people watching DVDs at the courthouse. There have been complaints about DVDs no longer being available for purchase, but Oeffner said they are few and far between.



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Why dont they just charge a little more for the DVD? Or better yet make it available online. Most Lawyers have Internet these days.


You can download Gigabytes in mins now, depending on your ISP. Could put a Watermark on them so you know it is/is  not official . wtf.


 They are denying access, to court materials to impede the speed/flow of their case load thereby denying  or certanily limiting the amount of justice dispensed.


I personally think the Videos are far superior, even as just references, /w time codes, date stamps etc. One step forward, two miles back.... progress?

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