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The Judicial Conference of the United States today approved a resolution stating that "Each court of appeals may decide for itself whether to permit the taking of photographs and radio and television coverage of appellate arguments, subject to any restrictions in statutes, national and local rules, and such guidelines as the Conference may adopt." But it also voted to strongly urge each circuit judicial council to adopt pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sec.332(d)(1) an order reflecting the Conference's September 1994 decision not to permit the taking of photographs and radio and television coverage of proceedings in U.S. district courts. The Conference also voted to strongly urge circuit judicial councils to abrogate any local rules of court that conflict with this decision, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Sec.2071(c)(1).
At its September 1990 session, the Judicial Conference established a cameras in court pilot program for civil cases only in two courts of appeals and six district courts. At its September 1994 meeting the Conference, in a move strongly criticized by many, declined to expand the experiment, citing -- at least for public consumption -- the alleged intimidating effect cameras may have on some witnesses and jurors. The cameras in court pilot program concluded on December 31, 1994.
In other action, the Conference:
* Agreed to reduce the 75 cents per minute fee for electronic public access to court data to 60 cents per minute. In the federal Judiciary's 1990 appropriations act, Congress directed the Judicial Conference to prescribe and collect fees for access to information available through automatic data processing equipment. The law further requires that the fees be used to pay for the expenses incurred in providing electronic public access services. At its March 1991 meeting, the Conference established a fee of $1 per minute. In March 1995 the Conference reduced the fee to 75 cents per minute. There is strong support among various segments of the judiciary to reduce the fees further-- or eliminate them entirely.
* Endorsed videoconferencing as a viable optional case management tool in civil prisoner rights pre-trial proceedings, and authorized the expenditure of funds to expand the videoconferencing program of such cases in district courts that meet established criteria. In recent years the Conference has endorsed the use of videoconferencing technology to reduce cost and delay in civil proceedings. The Eastern District of Texas, the Western District of Missouri, and the Middle District of Louisiana have been using videoconferencing for prisoner civil rights proceedings and the Western District of Texas has used videoconferencing to conduct certain routine bankruptcy proceedings. Overall, the pilot programs were considered a success by the participating judges and courts, and demonstrated that videoconferencing has the potential to offer net benefits to courts, depending on workload and business practices.
* Agreed to include in its biennial survey of judgeship needs, reviews of the need to eliminate judgeship positions or leave judgeships unfilled, and communicate to Congress any recommendations regarding eliminations along with requests for additional judgeships. The Conference also voted to urge Congress to continue filling vacancies as they occur and act on judgeship requirements -- including the need to increase or decrease the number -- as a total package. In January 1995 the Conference transmitted to Congress draft legislation to create 20 additional temporary court of appeals judgeships and 18 permanent and five temporary district court judgeships.
* Adopted a courthouse rent reduction and cost containment plan. Rent costs account for a significant and growing portion of Judiciary expenditures. In FY 96 the Judiciary will pay more that $500 million -- 19 percent of its Salaries and Expenses appropriation -- to the General Services Administration for rent. If rent payments continue to increase, the Judiciary will be unable to afford to fund the courts at already reduced personnel levels and also pay its rent. The space plan was developed by the Conference's Committee on Security, Space and Facilities in conjunction with its Budget Committee's Economy Subcommittee, judges, and court advisory groups. Among the provisions contained in the plan is a limit on the percentage increase in growth in rental costs; a ceiling on the amount of space occupied throughout each circuit; and a reevaluation of all projects, including courthouses now being designed or under construction, to determine if space currently planned can be deleted.
* Agreed to inform House and Senate leadership that proposed amendments pertaining to closed circuit televising of certain criminal proceedings, if enacted, should be modified to remove any prohibition relating to the expenditure of appropriated funds and that any requirement that courts order closed circuit televising of criminal proceedings should be made discretionary to the judge.
* Referred to its Criminal Law Committee the Attorney General's proposal for universal pre-appearance drug testing and instructed the Committee to report back expeditiously to the Executive Committee, which was authorized to act for the Conference on the matter. In December 1995 President Clinton forwarded a memorandum to the Attorney General directing her to develop a "...universal policy providing for drug testing of all federal arrestees before decisions are made on whether to release them into the community pending trial." In mid-February, the Attorney General sought input from the Judiciary. The proposal potentially would have a significant impact on the Judiciary's budget. While the issue is being studied further by the Criminal Law Committee, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts will continue to work actively with other groups who are studying implementation of the proposal.
* Agreed to write to the chairs of the House and Senate Appropriations subcommittees that oversee the Judiciary's budget to seek guidance on the use of appropriated funds to conduct gender bias studies in the courts. Specifically, the letters will state that subject to the disapproval of the congressional subcommittees, it is the intent of the Conference to fund the continuation of ongoing studies to their completion. Funds will not be provided for new studies. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 encouraged the circuit judicial councils to conduct studies of the instances, if any, of gender bias in their respective circuit.
The Judicial Conference of the United States is the principal policy- making body for the federal court system. The Conference meets twice a year to consider administrative and policy issues affecting the court system and to make recommendations to Congress concerning legislation involving the Judicial Branch. It is generally considered to be rather reactionary, except in matters of judicial independence.
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