Televising local trials

July 13, 2011
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The Casey Anthony trial was broadcast on local stations in Orlando and streamed over the Internet, allowing the general public access to something that typically only a handful could see if they could get a seat in the courtroom. Some stations broadcast the trial over the air while it was happening, and some just did frequent updates and streamed it live online. I assume this case was broadcast and picked up by every local station because of the national attention the case has garnered. (Thanks Nancy Grace).
 
Florida has allowed cameras and recording equipment in its courtrooms for more than two decades. According to The Brechner Center for Freedom of Information,  cameras can't be excluded just because they make participants nervous or self-conscious, but a judge can ban cameras if the person seeking the ban can prove the camera presence would have a "substantial effect" on a trial participant that would be "qualitatively different" from coverage by other media. Criminal defendants have to prove that the cameras would prevent him/her from getting a fair trial.

People watched the trial and formed their own opinions about whether Anthony was guilty of killing her daughter. Perhaps they even formed those opinions before the trial started. But when the verdict came back in Anthony’s favor, some people went crazy. People threatened the jury, even claiming they were killers for not convicting Anthony. News reports say one juror has quit her job and may relocate out of fear. A woman in a different state with the same name of one of the jurors who has spoken publicly has been received threatening calls and messages from people. With the advent of social media, it becomes easier to voice your opinion, find those who are like-minded, and find out information about people. As far as I know, the judge still hasn’t released the names of the jurors. He has said he was waiting in hopes people will calm down before he does.

I am in favor of allowing cameras in the courtroom. Letting people see how trials are conducted can educate people and even prepare those who may find themselves involved in one in the future. If the general public is responsible for electing or retaining a judge, then they should be able to see that judge in action.

If you watch a trial from start to finish, you’ll formulate an opinion. But your opinion doesn’t matter. What matters is the opinion of those 12 jurors (or judge). In this case, the jurors came back after 10 hours and said the prosecution didn’t prove its case on the murder, aggravated manslaughter of a child, or aggravated child abuse charges. The jurors only convicted Anthony of four counts of providing false information to law enforcement officers.

The circus that this case became (again, thanks Nancy Grace) has led to people being fearful for doing their civic duty and serving on the jury. This could support the argument that trials should be closed off to cameras, although with social media, there is still a way to disseminate information quickly and to the masses. While I don’t doubt that some people would be as adamant about their opinion on the case without it being broadcast on television, more people were ultimately exposed to the case by showing it on TV – locally and nationally.

What are your thoughts about allowing cameras into the courtroom?

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  • Thanks Nancy Grace!
    I would agree with your premise that cameras in court can be an educational experience for the viewing public. However, Nancy Grace's backseat driving (her allegiance to the prosecutorial side of the bench 100 % of the time is inexcusable and inflammatory, and she is completely unapologetic for her role in making public enemy #1 out of the people who had to actually interpret the evidence and apply the high standard of reasonable doubt...she is a disgrace to the attorney profession, and should be dissbarred, and her so called commentary experts who were all completely wrong about everything are still collecting their checks for fanning the flames of public sentiment)in the Anthony case, and other cases, is proof that when a criminal case becomes a media event, the people who should know to behave responsibly, and who should understand that it is an adversarial process, can't be trusted to behave in any manner other than what serves their own selfish interest. Mr. Baez was a buffoon according to the experts...now he and the Judge are apparently the next people to capitalize on being media stars, weighing offers left and right. Do you honestly think the lawyers in this high profile case acquitted themselves with professional dignity? I certainly don't...I think Mr. Baez and the prosecutor were auditioning to be the next experts/TV stars on Nancy and Greta's shows...Business has been pretty good for people like Geoff Fieger, Mark Geragos, Gloria Allred, all the OJ lawyers, after high profile cases plus TV gigs...some, like Barry Scheck, have done some good things with their notoriety...but most have just gone to the bank, and have not educated the public about much of anything. It is just reality television, and cheaper to produce than even "16 and Pregnant" or "Teen Mom".
    My point is this...most people think the lawyer profession is less than honorable to begin with (a bias that goes back to the biblical times by the way), and no one in the Anthony case provided any evidence to the contrary. Their grandstanding and playing to the cameras was obvious throughout...so while in theory your contention that cameras in the courtroom are potentially educational is valid, in practice I doubt we can trust the particpants to behave with the professionalism the courtroom deserves if a camera is there...they will all be auditioning for their TV Gig or to be the next Judge Judy...most lawyers are good with words, and are actors anyway...they would intuitively understand that the public wants entertainment. How many people do you think are going to come in and watch an exciting Civil Tort, or small claim case? How many folks would watch court in a situation where they televise indigents with public defenders signing their plea bargains...the grist that keeps the judicial mill running? The answer is not many...and that is the reality for 90 plus % of people involved in the criminal justice system. That is the truth, and the Anthony trial is just the latest myth served up by the media, because, as Colonel Jessup says in "A Few Good Men", "You can't handle the truth"...the people who watched wanted Nancy Grace's version of the truth in that case, but they don't really want to know about the judicial system...the parties that watch are not interested in being educated in reality, and the media are interested in ratings and advertizing time sold. Period. Not exactly a fertile environment for "education".

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  5. Additional Points: -Civility in the profession: Treating others with respect will not only move others to respect you, it will show a shared respect for the legal system we are all sworn to protect. When attorneys engage in unnecessary personal attacks, they lose the respect and favor of judges, jurors, the person being attacked, and others witnessing or reading the communication. It's not always easy to put anger aside, but if you don't, you will lose respect, credibility, cases, clients & jobs or job opportunities. -Read Rule 22 of the Admission & Discipline Rules. Capture that spirit and apply those principles in your daily work. -Strive to represent clients in a manner that communicates the importance you place on the legal matter you're privileged to handle for them. -There are good lawyers of all ages, but no one is perfect. Older lawyers can learn valuable skills from younger lawyers who tend to be more adept with new technologies that can improve work quality and speed. Older lawyers have already tackled more legal issues and worked through more of the problems encountered when representing clients on various types of legal matters. If there's mutual respect and a willingness to learn from each other, it will help make both attorneys better lawyers. -Erosion of the public trust in lawyers wears down public confidence in the rule of law. Always keep your duty to the profession in mind. -You can learn so much by asking questions & actively listening to instructions and advice from more experienced attorneys, regardless of how many years or decades you've each practiced law. Don't miss out on that chance.

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