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The Judiciary Wants to Do an Audio Pilot Program. Surprise: It's Not Designed So Well.

Following today’s Judicial Conference announcement of a two-year pilot program that will livestream audio of motion hearings in select district courts, FTC’s Gabe Roth released this statement:

The past few days have highlighted the urgent need for the judiciary to join the 21st century and allow judges, litigants and members of the public to engage with the courts virtually. While I would generally applaud the judiciary for taking steps to encourage live audio in federal courts, I am wary of the particulars of this proposal. 

First, I would prefer if the judiciary focused its efforts on offering live audio in circuit courts. Perhaps even more urgently, federal appeals courts, including the Supreme Court, must be prepared for teleconferencing as an alternative to in person arguments as the current coronavirus epidemic worsens. Some have done this, but all should. Without virtual options, the health of judges and litigants will be put at risk or justice will be delayed.

The new audio pilot has so many caveats in terms of which courts may stream which hearings when that it barely constitutes a pilot at all. It’s reminiscent of the U.S. Courts’ last such program, which recorded video in 14 districts and garnered little success due to a lack of quality controls, from the ability of judges to opt out entirely to the poor broadcast quality. I’m concerned that this pilot will meet a similar fate.

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