Just recently I came across someone questioning that only cameras that don’t exceed the noise level of a Leica rangefinder camera are allowed to be used during actual court proceedings. The question was if this was true or if it was just a myth. This sparked some curiosity on my part and I began to research the topic. Here is what I found:
In summer of 1977 the state of Florida began a one year experiment to allow the use of still cameras, tape recorders and live television broadcasts by accredited news agencies during court sessions. It marked the first time since the early 1960s that the media could venture into public trials and visually record the principals of a case with more than pen and sketch pad.
One of the earliest cases which received national attention during this experimental period was that of a 15 year old Miami boy who had been charged with murdering an elderly retiree during a robbery. Major news networks showed film clips almost daily and the nation’s newspapers were supplied with photos by the various wire services. At about the same time the Georgia Supreme Court, in consultation with the state bar association drew up board guidelines for the admittance of news cameras, etc., during state judicial proceedings. The chief judge of each Georgia superior court circuit was given the prerogative to formulate a specific coverage plan in his own district.
Many of those judges used their power and position to effectively exclude members of the visual media by not approving any plan of coverage for their trials in their jurisdictions. Still and television cameras were still barred in many counties in Georgia, even though the state’s highest court had sanctioned their use.
The supreme courts in both states further stipulated that the use of flash and motor drives were prohibited. In addition the chief justices gave the presiding judges the discretion to reject those cameras with noise levels which would distract jurors during testimony and “detract from the decorum of the Court.” That brought up the question of which cameras were quiet enough to meet the noise criteria set down by a crusty, conservative Georgia or Florida circuit judge.
The answer was unanimous: “Get a Leica M3 or M4 and a 90mm or 135mm lens.” Soon photographers began winning accolades of judges for the discreet quietness of their cameras.
Thus the conclusion is that even though judges do have the final word if cameras are allowed in court, the noise level of the Leica cameras apparently have become the standard. This is further underlined in a document called "Supreme Court Etiquette for Media" from the Vermont State Supreme Court. Under "Special Rules for Cameras and Recording Equipment," it says:
“Not more than one still photographer, utilizing not more than two still cameras with not more than two lenses for each camera and related equipment for print purposes shall be permitted in any court proceeding. Such cameras shall produce no greater sound than a 35mm Leica "M" Series rangefinder camera.