Yesterday in the Maryland House and Senate, transparency advocates testified in support of bills related to remote public access to court proceedings.
Joanne Antoine of Common Cause Maryland and Dr. Carmen Johnson, founder of Helping Ourselves to Transform and director of Court Watch PG, a volunteer group powered by Life After Release, spoke to lawmakers about the importance of public remote audio-visual access to all court proceedings not deemed closed, confidential, or restricted by law.
“In the wake of a global pandemic, it is the duty of lawmakers to consider virtual access to the courts,” said Qiana Johnson, executive director of Life After Release. “If the state of Florida can recognize this, so can we.”
“Virtual court access ensures that the public has safe, meaningful, affordable opportunities to observe our legal system at work,” said Joanne Antoine, executive director of Common Cause Maryland. “While courts are technically ‘open’ to the public, challenges associated with participation are a barrier to entry that disproportionately affects low-income communities. Virtual access to the courts not only ensures that loved ones can be present to support defendants, victims, and witnesses in their proceedings, but will also likely foster more active civic engagement in the public as a whole.”
“In 2015, I found myself sitting in an empty courtroom in the state of Maryland being tried for crimes I did not commit. I can only say that if there was remote access in that courtroom, I would not have been found guilty,” said Dr. Carmen Johnson, founder of Helping Ourselves to Transform and the director of Court Watch and Judicial Accountability. “I would like for everyone to understand that what happened to me could happen to you. This is why it is imperative that we have accountability and most importantly transparency in the court rooms — because injustice happens in empty courtrooms.
In written testimony submitted to the Maryland legislature in support of this legislation, Fiona Apple, a musician and frequent court watcher in Prince County, wrote: “This legislation would make Maryland leaders on the way to a more just, transparent, and accountable system that will protect the trust of the public you are meant to serve. It is constitutional, it is available, and it is the right thing to do.”
More information on the benefits of remote access to courts is available here.