District Court Rules Proposition 8 Trial Tapes Should Be Released to Public

U.S. District Court Chief Judge James Ware ruled that the video recordings of the Proposition 8 trial (Perry v. Brown) should be released to the public. Plaintiffs had asked the District Court to unseal the video recordings of the Prop. 8 trial, citing the strong presumption of public access to judicial records and the lack of any factual evidence by Proponents to keep the video secret. Prop. 8 was ruled unconstitutional in August 2010.

The American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) is the sole sponsor of the Perry lawsuit.

Judge Ware agreed with Plaintiffs, stating, “Foremost among the aspects of the federal judicial system that foster public confidence in the fairness and integrity of the process are public access to trials and public access to the record of judicial proceedings. Consequently, once an item is placed in the record of judicial proceedings, there must be compelling reasons for keeping that item secret. In the course of the non-jury trial of this case, at the direction of the presiding judge, court staff made a digital recording of the trial. After the close of the evidence, the judge ordered the clerk of court to file that digital recording under seal. The trial record is closed and the case is currently on appeal to the Ninth Circuit.”

Chad Griffin, AFER Board President said, “This is a significant victory for the American people, who will soon be able to see the evidence put forward by both sides in this historic federal trial. Unlike political campaigns, in a court of law, the truth and facts are all that matter. When witnesses take the stand, they are under oath and under penalty of perjury, and their statements are subjected to cross-examination and scrutiny. The public will soon see the extraordinarily weak case that the anti-marriage Proponents presented in a desperate attempt to defend this discriminatory law.”

During the Prop. 8 trial, then-Chief Judge Vaughn Walker allowed the entire trial proceedings to be videotaped. Because the trial tapes are now part of the District Court record and record on appeal, Plaintiffs contended that the First Amendment and the common law establish a strong presumption that these judicial records be open to the public.

Tonight, the public will get a chance to see what happened during the Prop. 8 trial through the production of “8,” a play written by AFER Founding Board Member and Academy-Award winning writer Dustin Lance Black and directed by Tony Award-winning actor and director Joe Mantello.

The all-star cast includes Ellen Barkin, Anthony Edwards, Morgan Freeman, Cheyenne Jackson, Christine Lahti, John Lithgow, Rob Reiner, Yeardley Smith and Bradley Whitford.

Black, who penned the Academy-Award winning feature film “Milk,” based “8” on the actual words of the trial transcripts, first-hand observations of the courtroom drama and interviews with the plaintiffs and their families. It premieres tonight at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre in New York City. All proceeds will benefit AFER. “8” will then be replicated by regional and college theatre groups around the country.


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