District Court Audio Streaming Pilot
Approved district courts are participating in a pilot program to livestream audio of certain civil proceedings involving matters of public interest.
The Judicial Conference of the United States, the national policy-making body for the federal courts, authorized the pilot program in March 2020. It will be administered by the Judicial Conference’s Court Administration and Case Management (CACM) Committee and the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. The pilot program will be used to study the feasibility of livestreaming audio of district court civil proceedings. The pilot is national in scope and will run for two years, beginning in February 2021.
The CACM Committee has adopted guidelines for the pilot program. Under the guidelines, audio of a civil proceeding involving a matter of public interest may be livestreamed on a court’s YouTube channel if all parties to the proceeding consent and the presiding judge approves. Trials and civil proceedings involving live witness testimony or sealed, confidential, or classified materials are ineligible for livestreaming under the pilot.
Thirteen district courts have been selected to participate as pilot courts:
- Northern District of California
- District of Columbia
- Southern District of Florida
- Northern District of Georgia
- District of Kansas
- Eastern District of Missouri
- District of Montana
- District of Nevada
- Northern District of New York
- Western District of Pennsylvania
- District of Rhode Island
- Eastern District of Tennessee
- Eastern District of Washington
Each participating court will share details about livestreamed proceedings on their court website. Audio of a livestreamed proceeding will not be recorded or otherwise available for playback or download after the proceedings has ended. Audio from proceedings may not be recorded, broadcasted, posted or reproduced in any form or duration.
At its March 2020 session, the Judicial Conference authorized a two-year district court pilot program to evaluate streaming live audio1 of proceedings in civil cases of public interest, and delegated to the Court Administration and Case Management (CACM) Committee the authority to issue and amend guidelines consistent with the parameters of the pilot. The objective of the pilot is to identify the policy, technical, operational, budgetary, and administrative issues associated with streaming live audio of civil proceedings, which the Committee will consider when deciding whether to recommend an amendment to the Conference’s cameras and broadcasting policy to allow the practice.2
Pursuant to the Judicial Conference’s authorization, the CACM Committee has promulgated the following guidelines under which the pilot program must proceed. The Conference has authorized the CACM Committee to periodically amend these guidelines, as necessary, to assist the pilot participants.
- Participating courts must abide by these guidelines as a condition for participating in this pilot program. These guidelines will remain in effect for the duration of the pilot, unless changed by the Conference or the CACM Committee acting on its behalf.
- Only courts designated as pilot courts are permitted to stream live audio of civil proceedings subject to the other requirements set forth herein.
- Each pilot court must ensure that participation in this pilot complies with or is otherwise authorized under its local rules.
- The pilot program is limited to civil proceedings. Examples might include oral argument of a motion or a status report related to a consent judgment or ongoing litigation.
The following civil proceedings are excluded from the pilot.
- Any civil proceeding involving live witness testimony.
- Any civil proceeding involving sealed, confidential, or classified materials.
- Any civil proceeding involving jurors or potential jurors, including voir dire and trial.
To qualify for live audio streaming under the pilot, a proceeding or the civil case, generally, must involve an issue of public interest.
- Examples of issues of public interest include, but are not limited to: a claim that, once resolved, may impact the public or a discernable group of people (e.g., employees, residents of a city or state, consumers); a case raising issues of public health or safety; a case involving a civil rights claim; a case involving a public entity, agency, or official; a case that has received media attention.
All parties to the proceeding must consent to streaming live audio of the proceeding.
- The court may establish a procedure to obtain each party’s consent to stream live audio of a proceeding, including a time frame by which consent must be given.
- The court, sua sponte or upon request, may ask the parties whether they consent to streaming live audio of a proceeding.
- Consent to live audio streaming of one proceeding in a case shall not be construed as consent to streaming live audio of any other proceeding in that case.
The presiding judge in any civil case will retain the ultimate discretion to deny a request to stream live audio of a proceeding and to stop streaming live audio at any point during a proceeding should an issue or concern arise.
- It is not intended that a grant or denial of a request to stream live audio of a proceeding under this pilot be subject to appellate review insofar as it pertains to and arises under these guidelines, except as otherwise provided by law.
- The live audio of a qualifying proceeding may only be streamed on the court’s YouTube channel. For purposes of the pilot, it is essential that all proceedings are live streamed to the same internet platform.
- The digital audio that is streamed is not the official record of the proceeding.
- At the end of each month, participating courts must submit to the AO a completed questionnaire (to be supplied by the AO) regarding the number of proceedings that were streamed during the month and detailing any administrative, operational, or technical issues that arose.
1 Live audio streaming involves real-time broadcast of audio from a courtroom or virtual proceeding to a media player that is accessible to the public online. Unlike the temporary exemption to the Judiciary’s broadcasting policy, which allows a judge to authorize the use of teleconference technology to provide the public and media a way to call or logon to listen to proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic, the audio streaming pilot will permit courts to transmit audio of proceedings out to the public.
2 The information gathered during the pilot program could be used to prepare guidance for courts if an amendment to the broadcasting policy is ultimately recommended to and adopted by the Judicial Conference.