Playing lawyer

Oh, lovely.  Here we go.

“News organizations have submitted a Rule 22 for cameras in the courtroom.  Because there’s an objection, we’re going to have a hearing.”

The judge was speaking from the bench in Clayton County Superior Court.

Friday, the objection came from Victor Hill, Sheriff of Clayton County.  He faces a corruption trial in August.  Hill himself has skipped pretrial hearings.  But a judge ordered his presence at a pretrial hearing Friday.  Hill’s team legal objected to the TV and newspaper cameras that had requested access.

Time to play lawyer.  It was a thought both exhilarating and frightening.

Victor Hill, Sheriff / Defendant

Victor Hill, Sheriff / Defendant

News organizations don’t routinely bring attorneys to courtrooms when they’ve requested camera access.  In and around the big city of Atlanta, judges are pretty sophisticated about it and routinely overrule objections to cameras.  Hearings are rare.

But hearings can be wild cards.  Judges will always ask the two sides — the prosecution and defense, say — to state their positions on the presence of a camera.  Typically the defense will argue that a camera somehow hinders the defendant’s right to a fair trial.  Prosecutors usually don’t care about the camera.

Then sometimes the judge will ask to hear from the news organization requesting the camera.  The few times I’ve done it, it’s gone kinda like this:

Hapless TV goon:  Your honor, I’m Doug and I’m with —

Judge:  Are you an attorney?

HTVG: No sir.  We don’t have an attorney here.

Judge:  (Eyes roll.) OK.

HTVG:  My station filed the Rule 22.  It’s my understanding that courts have held that a pool TV camera doesn’t infringe on a defendant’s right to a fair trial.  The parties have shown no extraordinary circumstances here.  Unless they can do that, my understanding is that you are obliged to allow the camera.  We would ask you to deny the motion.

And then the HTVG sits, hoping for no questions.  As he sits, the parties sneer at the rube who clearly lacks legal training.

Fortunately, Judge Albert Collier never asked to hear from the news media in this instance.  He denied the motion after hearing from the state and from Hill’s attorney.

But the anticipation, the uncertainty and the knowledge that your remarks, no matter how well-presented, will inevitably bring muffled snorts from attorneys — all that can make the heart race a bit. Maybe the TV audience has much the same reaction to my material.  If so, I don’t know about it unless and until I read the muted feedback on our website.

I’ll take a cold, glassy-eyed TV camera lens over a heartless live audience anytime.

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This entry was posted in WXIA on by .

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Doug Richards is a reporter at WXIA-TV. This is his personal blog. WXIA-TV has nothing whatsoever to do with this blog, under any circumstances, in any form. For anything written herein, Doug accepts sole credit and full blame. Follow him on Twitter: @richardsdoug. All rights reserved. Thanks for visiting.

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