Middleton court live streams to resume

CENTREVILLE — Just a few days after a local judge opted to end his widely-viewed YouTube live streams, it appears they will be coming back after all.

St. Joseph County 3B District Court Judge Jeffrey Middleton announced in a video on his courtroom’s YouTube channel Thursday that live streams of his court’s hearings will resume beginning Monday morning, May 24.

The move is a reversal from Middleton’s decision this past Monday to end his courtroom’s live streams, which came following a phone call he received from the Michigan Supreme Court’s State Court Administrator (SCAO) office requesting an end to the live streams.

SCAO spokesman John Nevin wrote in an email statement Thursday that the office has apologized to Middleton for “any confusion regarding the livestream,” and said SCAO “urged” Middleton to reconsider his decision to end the streams.

“Livestreams of court proceedings have been critically important to maintaining public access to the judiciary while court building have been closed to protect public health,” Nevin wrote. “Just like school board meetings or city council sessions, court hearings on YouTube keep the public informed and educated. That’s why the Supreme Court intends for this increased transparency to continue even after court buildings reopen to the public.”

Middleton said in his video Thursday he received a call from SCAO late in the day Tuesday regarding the situation, and after a conversation with the office, said he would “think about it for a couple of days.” Middleton said he also conversed with County Prosecutor David Marvin, who said he was also in favor of the streams resuming.

“We have a window right now where we’re doing these livestreams, and I see it and the Michigan Supreme Court sees it as an opportunity to educate people and inform people as to how the courts operate,” Middleton said.

Middleton addressed concerns he and others had about the streams being used more for entertainment than education. He said there is a “fine line” the streams have between those two concepts, and that “I don’t know where to draw that line.”

“Jimmy Buffet said there’s a fine line between Saturday night and Sunday morning, but it’s a fine line between education and entertainment. People can be educated as well as entertained,” Middleton said.

“The state court administrator told me to just do what you do, conduct your court proceedings as you have conducted them, but people ought to be able to watch it and understand it and perhaps be enlightened, informed, outraged – I’ll try not to be outrageous – but at least know that it’s not some secret thing that’s conducted behind closed doors,” Middleton said. “It’s for public acceptance and understanding.”

Middleton said there could be a few operational changes when it comes to live streams, such as leaving videos up for only seven days before taking them down and doing smaller segments for cases instead of continuous hour-long streams. As far as privacy concerns, Middleton said they may identify parties going forward by first name and last initial and being more careful about bringing people into the Zoom calls, in particular working out parties’ screen names.

Nevin, in his statement, wrote that SCAO is currently examining court rules when court closures are permitted “in order to make sure rules regarding livestreams follow the law, protect privacy, and maintain public access.”

The judge thanked those who have viewed the streams for their positive comments in the last few days and relayed a message from the Michigan Supreme Court about court transparency.

“Our courts are open, accessible, and hopefully can be a tool for people to understand how the court process is supposed to happen,” Middleton said.

Robert Tomlinson can be reached at 279-7488 ext. 23 or robert@threeriversnews.com.

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