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Federal Court In St. Louis Among Those Trying Out Livestreams Of Some Cases

Setting sun highlights the Eagleton Federal courthouse.
File photo / Rachel Heidenry
The audio of cases being heard at the Thomas F. Eagleton Courthouse, shown in 2008, will be livestreamed as part of a two-year pilot program.

Observers of federal court in St. Louis will get more chances this year to listen to certain hearings without having to be at the courthouse.

The Eastern District of Missouri is one of 13 courts participating in a pilot program allowing audio livestreaming of court proceedings on YouTube. While the program temporarily lifts a ban on broadcasts of proceedings, they cannot be recorded.

“Our job is to provide a full and fair forum for parties to resolve their disputes, but always in the context of an open courthouse,” said U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig of the Eastern District. She is a member of the national committee on court administration that developed the protocols for the pilot program.

Right now, streams are limited to civil cases with no juries or witnesses, and all parties, including the judge, must agree. The original proposal from the court’s oversight body, the Judicial Conference of the United States, was even more narrow, focusing only on oral arguments.

“We determined that was not broad enough, because there are court proceedings that are not oral arguments that may be of tremendous concern,” Fleissig said, adding that the first hearing to be streamed in the country was a status update in the civil rights case against the City of Ferguson. A livestream of arguments in Georgia in one of President Trump’s baseless challenges to the 2020 election results drew 42,000 listeners.

The Judicial Conference authorized the pilot program earlier this year, but it took Fleissig’s committee time to develop the protocols. Courts were eager to participate, she said, but the move to virtual proceedings during the coronavirus pandemic slowed things down.

“Some courts did not feel they were in a position at this moment not only to take on making access to all of our court proceedings available remotely, and still incorporate yet another technology program,” Fleissig said.

The pilot program will last for two years, giving Fleissig’s committee and the Judicial Conference time to evaluate issues like security and technological needs before deciding whether to expand streaming nationwide.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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