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Proposition 8 trial video at center of legal debate

August 29, 2011 | 12:20 pm

James Ware, left, and Vaughn R. Walker

A federal judge in San Francisco, hearing arguments on whether to make public videotapes of last year’s trial on Proposition 8, said Monday he generally favored the trend of bringing cameras into the courtroom but also was concerned about obeying “the rules.”

Chief U.S. District Court Judge James Ware said he would issue a written opinion on whether to remove a seal on the video of the same-sex marriage trial that ended in a ruling declaring the marriage ban unconstitutional.

Ware did not say how he was leaning. But he said "the integrity of the judicial process is affected" when one judge promises a videotape will be used only for limited purposes and a second judge later decides to make the video public.

The judge also said, however, that there is keen public interest in the proceedings and that the tapes might "heighten public knowledge" about the case.

During nearly two hours of arguments, lawyers for Proposition 8 challengers and the news media pointed to statements by Proposition 8 backers alleging that retired Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who presided over the trial, had been biased.

“Releasing the video would allow everyone to review and make their own judgments about what happened,” said Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., who represents two same-sex couples who challenged the 2008 ballot measure.

But David Thompson, a lawyer for the measure's backers, reminded Ware that Walker had assured them the tapes would not be aired publicly.

“We were entitled to rely upon those ironclad assurances, and we did,” Thompson said.

The U.S. Supreme Court barred a broadcast of the trial after Proposition 8’s sponsors argued that videotaping the proceedings would intimidate their witnesses and expose them to harassment.  Thompson told Ware that releasing the tapes now might intimidate future witnesses from participating in trials.

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-- Maura Dolan in San Francisco

Photo: (left) Chief U.S. District Court Judge James Ware. Credit: U.S. District Court. (right) Former chief judge of the United States District Court Vaughn R. Walker speaks at a news conference at the Phillip Burton Federal Building in San Francisco April 6. Credit: Beck Diefenbach / Reuters

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