- Arwen Chenery
(SACRAMENTO) –Newly elected Assemblymember Steve Bennett (D-Ventura) introduced legislation today to modernize open court proceedings by requiring courts to provide remote access for the public and media.
AB 716 strikes a balance between meaningful access and court flexibility, without limiting a judge's ability to hold closed proceedings. The bill would require courts to provide the public and the media with remote access to hearings, via internet or telephonic services, during open court proceedings.
"Our judicial system remains a crucial part of society during these unprecedented times. This pandemic has revealed the need to provide more options for meaningful access for the press and public to open court proceedings," said Assemblymember Bennett, "AB 716 increases public transparency in government and that's a goal we should all be in favor of."
Brittney Barsotti, General Counsel with the California Newspaper Publishers Association noted, "While CNPA maintains that in person access to courts is fundamental to transparency, AB 716 is working to establish a critical path to ensuring remote access, as we walk through this pandemic."
The high transmission rate of COVID-19, initially shown by the number of new cases and later by hospital admissions, created a greater need for remote work and remote events. However, as courthouses physically closed during the pandemic, access for the public and media to legal proceedings was limited.
Understanding the need for new social distancing requirements, California courts have adapted and continued to operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, as the Federal Administrative Office of the United States Courts cautioned, courts should remain conscious that the First Amendment guarantees the public and media's right to view criminal proceedings.