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Gay marriage trial video will remain sealed, appeals court rules

February 2, 2012 | 10:20 am

A federal appeals court refused Thursday to make public the video of the Proposition 8 same-sex marriage trial, a victory for opponents of gay marriage.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said the video from the 2010 federal trial in San Francisco should remain sealed because the trial judge promised the defenders of the proposition that it would be used for internal court purposes only.

“The trial judge on several occasions unequivocally promised that the recording of the trial would be used only in chambers and not publicly broadcast,” the panel said.


The 9th Circuit ruling overturned a lower court decision in favor of making the video public, a position favored by the news media and gay rights groups.

The same panel is weighing the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the 2008 ballot measure that ended a brief period in California when same-sex marriage was legal. A decision on that is expected any day.

[Updated, 10:37 a.m. Feb. 2.: The court also decided that retired Chief Judge U.S. District Judge Vaughn R. Walker, who presided over the Proposition 8 trial and ruled the measure unconstitutional, is not entitled to keep a copy of the recordings. After his retirement, Walker used a snippet from the testimony in a lecture about cameras in the court.

The backers of Proposition 8 accused him of reneging on a commitment to seal the video and demanded he return it. The 9th Circuit said Proposition 8’s backers were entitled to take Walker “at his word when he assured them that the trial recording would not be publicly broadcast or televised.” To set aside Walker’s early commitments about keeping the tapes private would “compromise the integrity of the judicial process,” the court said.

“The interest in preserving respect for our system of justice is clearly a compelling reason for maintaining the seal on the recording.” Supporters of same-sex marriage argued the tapes should be made public to reveal the evidence behind Walker’s ruling after the judge was charged with bias.]


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-- Maura Dolan in San Francisco

Photo: Gay marriage supporters gather Dec. 8, 2011, outside the federal courthouse in San Francisco, where the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard motions in the battle over Proposition 8. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times