Vermont Supreme Court debuts live-stream

John Dooley

Justice John Dooley asks a question from the bench at the Vermont Supreme Court in January. Stefan Hard/Times Argus Staff/Pool photo

Editor’s note: This article by Jordan Cuddemi was published in the Valley News on March 7, 2017.

SOUTH ROYALTON — The Vermont Supreme Court will join a growing number of states on Wednesday when it live-streams oral arguments for the first time.

The state Supreme Court will test the not-so-novel idea during its annual session at Vermont Law School, a move that could set the stage for regular live-streaming.

“It is a direction we want to go in,” Vermont Supreme Court Justice John Dooley said in a telephone interview on Monday. “We are really appreciative of Vermont Law School for getting our toes in the water on the subject.”

The five Supreme Court justices have indicated to court staff that they would like to regularly live-stream proceedings, but money, staff availability and some details about how to go about it remain the central questions that will determine when that might happen, Dooley said.

Discussions are underway, though, and the live-streaming of all Vermont Supreme Court oral arguments could take place in a “matter of months,” Dooley noted.

Dooley welcomes the prospect.

“If people knew more about the Supreme Court, it would be good for both the court and the citizens of the state,” Dooley said.

Currently, the court records oral arguments and posts the audio on the judiciary website after the proceedings come to a close. Live-streaming will allow people to watch the sessions in real time.

The possibility of live-streaming court hearings has been kicking around for a while. One thing that helped Vermont justices was a meeting with their counterparts in other New England states in which they heard positive reviews, Dooley said.

Vermont would join a number of other states — just how many is unclear — who live-stream Supreme Court proceedings, including New Hampshire.

The New Hampshire Supreme Court went live in October 2005, joining 20 other state courts at that time, according to a news release.

“The New Hampshire Supreme Court has been live-streaming oral arguments for more than a decade now with extremely positive results,” New Hampshire judiciary spokeswoman Carole Alfano said last week. “All five justices believe that these webcasts are an important part of the judicial branch’s continuing commitment to making courts accessible to the public.”

Eileen Fox, the clerk of the New Hampshire Supreme Court, said she is unaware of any drawbacks to live-streaming.

Dooley said he couldn’t think of any either, other than the possibility of encountering some technical difficulties.

Cathy Russon, a 47-year-old from Utah who started a website to broadcast live court proceedings, said she is seeing a growing number of people who are interested in watching such proceedings.

“People want to see the justice system at work,” said Russon, who launched CourtChatter.com in 2013. “Courtrooms are the public’s business. The legal justice system is for the people (and) of the people.”

Roughly 500 people from all over the world are on her website at any given time, she said.

Russon, a stay-at-home mom, said she started her website to fill the void created when television stopped broadcasting regularly scheduled court shows. She said she also wanted to provide a platform for others to watch and chat about the tapings.

Vermont Law School will open its doors to the justices beginning at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, something it has done annually since the 1990s, school spokeswoman Maryellen Apelquist said.

The court will hear six cases, including the appeal of Gregory Manning, a former employee of the Corner Stop Mini Mart in Royalton, who was convicted of embezzlement.

The Supreme Court session is open to the public. And now, interested parties can watch the oral arguments live on the law school’s YouTube channel.

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