Maryland Lawmakers Set to Vote on Expanding Remote Court Viewing

February 9, 2023 by Tom Ramstack
Maryland Lawmakers Set to Vote on Expanding Remote Court Viewing
(Photo by Dan McCue)

PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, Md. — A bill pending in the Maryland General Assembly to broaden public access to remote viewing of criminal court proceedings is gaining notoriety with support from singer-songwriter Fiona Apple.

Apple has joined with the nonprofit group Courtwatch PG to push for legislation that would expand internet streaming of court proceedings statewide.

Currently, video of the proceedings is available only for one county, namely the Washington, D.C., suburb of Prince George’s County.

The bill in Maryland runs counter to many remote viewing trends in courts nationwide.

Although remote viewing of hearings became common during the worst of COVID-19, many courts are shutting down their live-streaming over the internet as the pandemic eases. Examples include courts in Los Angeles, California, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Other courts remain open for live-streaming, such as in Aurora, Illinois, Washington, D.C., and Lansing, Michigan. 

“We’re trying to make sure that we can keep court-watching and have good access where we can hear what’s going on in courts — because we all know that there’s some bad s – – – that’s going on in the courts,” Apple said in a video posted online.

She urged her fans to contact their Maryland delegates to encourage their support for the bills, H.B. 133 and S.B. 43.

Courtwatch PG is one of several advocacy groups nationwide that monitors arraignment proceedings. It includes collecting data and watching how bail is set.

Apple, who rose to fame with her song “Criminal” and the album “Fetch the Bolt Cutters,” has volunteered with Courtwatch PG for the past two years. She lives in New York but started watching Maryland court proceedings when Prince George’s County started live-streaming them during the pandemic.

Courtwatch PG already has brought to light a tendency of courts to keep people jailed for weeks or months after they were cleared for release by a judge. The pending lawsuit of Frazier v. Prince George’s County says people approved for release make up one-third of the county’s jail population.

Apple testified before the Maryland General Assembly last year in favor of the proposed live-streaming of court proceedings.

She said she observed defendants who remained jailed because they could not afford bail even after they were not considered dangerous or a flight risk, which violates Maryland bail guidelines. Other times, she said defendants were jailed because the court could not find an interpreter.

Apple testified that some defendants were jailed without access to life-saving medication they needed. Some police officers were called to testify who were on the state attorney’s “do not call list,” she said.

“This is all being done in the people’s name,” Apple said. “They deserve to see it too.”

The Maryland House bill is titled Court Proceedings — Remote Public Access and Participation.

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