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Smile, Your Honor, You're On Candid Camera

What's wrong with television cameras in court?  Justices Souter, O'Connor, Kennedy and Breyer don't think it's a good idea, and point to the Simpson trial as an example of why it's not.  Well, they're not going to get off that easy, even though O.J. did.  In an American Bar Association event yesterday, Justice Kennedy said, "A number of people would want to make us part of the national entertainment network."  Some of the Justices are a bit more adamant about it than others.  Justice David Souter told a congressional panel in 1996, "The day you see a camera come into our courtroom it's going to roll over my dead body." 

Them's fightin' words.

At least to a journalist.  (Did I tell you that I'm now a card-carrying member of the LA Press Club?  They let me in based on my blog credentials.)  But back to the story.  What's the big deal?  If the Justices were embarrassed by the O.J. trial, then the solution isn't about television, it's about the system that created the spectacle, and the fastest way to solve that problem would be to open the doors of of the courthouses.  Open access would normalize the system and stop the grandstanding, if that's what strikes fear in the Justices. 

Obvious situations where television isn't appropriate include juvenile and certain family law matters, and perhaps some criminal matters.  On the other hand, we're an open society, and an open government.  Former Canon 35 (now Ethical Consideration 5-1) of the American Bar Association used to recommend against cameras in the courtroom, thinking that the lawyer's duty to the client might conflict with the lawyer's desire to gain an inappropriate benefit from being on television at the expense of the client.  With Court TV, we've now gotten beyond that issue.

Congress broadcasts on C-Span, and Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) thinks it's time the Supreme Court started to fill a slot, building on Senator Grassley's (R- IA) fourth bill to get cameras into federal courtrooms.  Frankly, I don't understand the problem.  Think about it.  We already have Judge Judy, Mills Lane and Judge Wapner.  It can't get any worse than that.  In fact, cameras in real courtrooms would be a welcome improvement over the present fare. 

If their concern is a possible increase in the lack of civility in the courtroom, then I can't imagine a better enforcement tool.  Lawyer disciplinary proceeding would have more instant replays than the NFL.  "That's five yards for an intentional smirk at opposing counsel."  We could develop a whole new set of penalties.  The problem, though, is that I just can't get the image out of my head of yellow flags flying out from behind the judge's bench, hurling toward the lawyers.  It would be a great way to rule on objections.

I've always thought judges should be wearing black-and-white-striped shirts instead of black robes anyway.

Posted by J. Craig Williams on Saturday, November 12, 2005

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