Ga. Supreme Court order allows judicial discretion over electronics in courtrooms

High court decision keeps current recording rules in place and authorizes trial judges to permit use of electronic devices for non-recording uses.

The Georgia Supreme Court on Tuesday approved a rule change that would generally keep existing protocols in place for audio and video recording in courtrooms, as well as give judges discretion about whether people can use electronic devices to type and text in their courtrooms.

Judges get new leeway to let citizens use phones, computers and tablets in the courtroom to type and text – with permission.

The Court’s order, which takes effect May 1, keeps the so-called Rule 22 largely the same for professional media and citizens using cameras in courtrooms. As happens today, journalists and members of the public must request permission to record or photograph judicial proceedings. A judge must provide detailed rationale for denying cameras in the courtroom — and only after holding a hearing on the issue.

The new rule gives a judge leeway to let citizens use phones, computers and tablets in the courtroom to type and text, but the judge has to specifically permit it — orally, in writing or by posting such a policy in their courtroom. Otherwise, the public has to keep electronic devices turned off in the courtroom.

At the same time, the rule gives attorneys appearing before the court wide latitude to use electronic devices for everything from audio and video recordings to taking notes. A lawyer must announce to the courtroom that a recording is being made, and the recording can only be used afterward for legal proceedings.

“On the whole, the new Rule 22 aligns with the Georgia First Amendment Foundation’s request that courtrooms in the state remain open to the public,” said Richard Griffiths, president of the foundation’s board of directors.

“We wish the rule had embraced a system that automatically allowed courtroom observers to type and text in courtrooms in a non-disruptive way, but the foundation appreciates the Supreme Court’s decision to reject the outright ban that had been proposed by others,” Griffiths said. “The new rule makes clear that individual judges may routinely allow this use of technology in their courtrooms. That’s a step in the right direction.”