Cameras in Minnesota courtrooms debate takes focus after high profile trials

As the Darrell Brooks sentencing plays out on camera in a Wisconsin courtroom, Minnesota’s Supreme Court is weighing what to do about cameras in Minnesota courtrooms. 

In Minnesota, generally during criminal trials, no cameras are allowed to capture the proceedings until after a verdict is reached.

During COVID-19, the high-profile police trials of Derek Chauvin and Kim Potter were allowed to be live-streamed, with the decisions being made by individual district court judges. 

According to the expert's FOX 9’s Paul Blume spoke with, courtroom cameras are allowed in 37 states, making Minnesota the minority regarding camera access.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin has had an open courtroom policy for 40 years. But it's possible the rules in Minnesota could soon change.

"For goodness sake, the image of George Floyd being murdered is what made a difference and brought out passion and change. I think there is value, if there’s a problem with the system, in shedding light on it and shedding light on it, through cameras," argued media coalition attorney Leita Walker at a September hearing before the Minnesota Supreme Court as she sought greater camera access inside the state’s courtrooms.

Walker singled out the COVID-era, high-profile, live-streamed trials of both Chauvin and Potter as successful models of transparency, community trust, and ultimately justice in a system that's often difficult for the public to access and understand.

In Minnesota, if you want to keep watch on the state’s judicial system, you have to go down to your nearest county courthouse and sit in on proceedings.

Walker believes cameras would change that – good or bad.

"The flaws are part of the system, we should also let people see how judges control their courtrooms and how justice can be served, even though the system is run by human beings who are flawed," she said. "I think that's a very important thing for people to see if we're going to build trust in the system."

The current rule states that media outlets like FOX 9 are allowed to document sentencings, but there are still objections and judges who can say no.

FOX 9’s request to cover the upcoming sentencing of Xia Her-Xiong, a defendant in a deadly Ramsey County hit-and-run case we’ve followed for months, was denied.

Judge Joy Bartscher writes, "there are concerns that additional publicity would detract from the dignity of the proceedings and be detrimental… a concern heightened because of the significant attention this case has already garnered on social media and elsewhere."

But Walker sees such an opinion as "a mental block," saying, "I hope judges are open minded about it, even under the current rules… and to try it and see how it works."

Until then, media outlets continue to await direction from the Minnesota Supreme Court on cameras going forward, with no timeline for a ruling.