Florida

Now you can watch Florida Supreme Court proceedings live on Facebook

The Florida Supreme Court will begin live streaming on Facebook Live on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, with live oral arguments coming in February 2018.
The Florida Supreme Court will begin live streaming on Facebook Live on Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018, with live oral arguments coming in February 2018. El Nuevo Herald File

Florida’s Supreme Court is once again ready for its closeup.

More than 40 years after Florida became the first state to allow television stations to broadcast from the courtroom in 1975, the camera’s gaze will become even more present Thursday as Facebook Live broadcasts begin.

This modern way of sharing information makes the Florida Supreme Court “one of the first courts in the world to use social media for official live video” according to the court’s post Tuesday on its Facebook page.

New York’s state appellate courts began live streaming video in September on their main court system website. Several court systems have adopted audio live streaming, including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Miami, but video live streaming by the courts is new.

One major holdout: The U.S. Supreme Court, which does not live stream audio or video of its oral arguments and has no plans to do so in the foreseeable future, the National Law Journal reported in October. U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts feels that doing so “could adversely affect the character and quality of the dialogue between the attorneys and justices.”

The initial live stream from the Florida Supreme Court — at 3:30 p.m. Thursday — will be a showcase of the annual Florida Bar Pro Bono Awards that honor lawyers who donate services to people in need.

But after that special event, Facebook Live will be used permanently for all oral arguments, starting in February. The Facebook Live streams are in addition to live and archived video already on the court’s video website portal, Gavel to Gavel, which has been a partnership project with Florida State University since 1997.

LeBarga Fla Sup Ct 17
Florida Supreme Court Chief Jorge Labarga is one of the justices who urged the court to move to adopt livestreaming of oral arguments on Facebook Live. In this file photo, he attended the Florida Commission on Access to Civil Justice workshop in Miami on June 1, 2017. C.M. GUERRERO. cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com

“In the 1970s, Florida became the first state to allow broadcasts of its court cases at a time when every other court in the nation refused it,” said Chief Justice Jorge Labarga in a statement on Facebook. “This court’s experiment with transparency showed everyone a better way to balance First Amendment rights against the rights of people involved in a trial or appeal. Social media will be our next step in moving this highly successful model of openness into the twenty-first century.”

The court hopes that by potentially tapping Facebook’s 2 billion users, its live stream can supplement and supersede traditional broadcast means now in use and boost transparency.

The groundwork for Thursday’s Facebook Live video began two years ago when the state’s justices pushed to increase the public’s awareness of Florida court proceedings. The justices approved a court communications plan in December 2015 that urged Florida’s courts to embrace advances in technology through social media and podcasting. This led to the Beyond the Bench podcast on the Florida Supreme Court’s website.

The Florida Supreme Court created its Facebook page in 2016 and has been using Twitter since 2009.

Howard Cohen: 305-376-3619, @HowardCohen

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