Supreme Court Remembers Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte

Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte

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"Sandy was a force of nature. His beneficial impact on Florida law is immeasurable. If I had to choose any one person as the most important mover and shaker behind Florida’s open government movement in the Twentieth Century, it would be Sandy D’Alemberte. He is the main reason Florida’s courts have been open to cameras for the last 40 years.” - Chief Justice Charles T. Canady

Few lawyers had as great an impact on the Florida Supreme Court as Talbot "Sandy" D'Alemberte, whose death last night has left Tallahassee in mourning.

D'Alemberte came from a family whose lives were deeply intertwined with the Court's history. His great uncle James B. Whitfield was one of the longest serving Supreme Court Justices in state history, deeply influencing D'Alemberte's life.

But it was D'Alemberte's professional work that truly defined his relationship with the Court and its governance practices.

In 1975, D'Alemberte spearheaded a legal petition on behalf of the Post-Newsweek TV stations to open all of Florida's state courts to television cameras. It was a shocking, novel idea.

What D'Alemberte proposed was a frontal assault on longstanding judicial practice nationwide, which viewed television coverage as incompatible with the right to a fair trial. No state in 1975 gave television cameras free access to trials.

Over a four-year period, D'Alemberte coaxed the Florida Supreme Court to let cameras into the courts on an ever-widening experimental basis. When naysayers' predictions of botched trials failed to materialize, the Florida Supreme Court finally agreed with D'Alemberte in 1979 and adopted the most sweeping camera rule in the nation.

That rule let video cameras into all of Florida's courts, in effect creating a presumption that unfettered television coverage was the norm. Anyone who opposed coverage would have to come to the judge and argue compelling reasons to exclude the cameras, while media lawyers would have a chance to argue against them. That rule remains in place today.

In 1996, D'Alemberte carried his commitment to open government a step further. As president of Florida State University, he approached newly elected Florida Chief Justice Gerald Kogan about placing small permanent robotic television cameras in the courtroom of the Florida Supreme Court.

The idea was to broadcast gavel-to-gavel coverage of all arguments before Florida's highest court so that everyone could watch. The videos would be offered live and then would be archived. And the whole package would be available on the new medium called the World-Wide Web. This was livestreaming before the word "livestreaming" had been coined.

D'Alemberte's dream of open access to government proceedings has expanded over time. In 2018, the Florida Supreme Court took D'Alemberte's livestreaming program and moved it onto Facebook Live, in addition to its other broadcast outlets.

And that means the Florida Supreme Court's proceedings now are freely available to anyone worldwide. It is one of Sandy D'Alemberte's many legacies to the people during a life of public service.