Tag Archives: California

Putting CTV Out of Business

Its stock declining.

No cameras in the courtroom.

Court TV bankrupt?


As the Simpson trial progressed, California judges increasingly denied  the media’s courtroom camera coverage requests. In addition, another state that had a blanket rule barring cameras from its courtrooms and the federal courts stopped pilot projects to permit camera coverage of certain kinds of cases in a limited number of courtrooms. The economic impart hit Court TV hard. While the cable network didn’t go out of business, it did have to changes its programming and eventually the founder and owner, Steven Brill sold the channel. It continues to operate, but under the name of truTV and its programming is far different than it was in its pioneering days of the early 1990s.

A Rush to Print, Nevermind the Fallout

 Book by Michael Knox.

Life as sequestered juror.

U.S. judge unbans.


My book Anatomy of a Trial chronicles on page 117 that Simpson Trial Judge Lance Ito admonished jurors to ignore the photos [in Simpson’s house when the jury toured it], but one apparently didn’t, at least not to the satisfaction of prosecutors. That, plus allegations that Michael Knox had bet a friend during jury selection that Simpson would be acquitted, moved him off the jury on March 1. Knox apparently was also keeping notes for a book. His The Private Diary of an O. J. Juror, published just three months later, was the first out about the trial.

Page 127 reveals Ito’s concerns about the book being published before the trial was over. “Although a recently enacted law barred former jurors from profiting from their jury experience until ninety days after they had served, Ito’s concern focused primarily on the identities of the jurors still in service and the sequestration site. Although he and I both knew that the major news organizations already had extensive information about all of the jurors, including where they were sequestered, none had made it public. An investigation to ensure that Knox’s book hadn’t compromised the jury and preparing for a hearing about it also took time away from the trial.”

Even though Knox’s book debuted a day or two after the 90-day ban period, a federal judge struck down California’s law prohibiting jurors from selling their stories after they left jury duty.

Senator Fakes an Accent

He mimed an accent.

D’Amato thinks he’s so cute.

Whose English is best?


The trouble for U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, R-NY, started with radio shock jock Don Imus.  It was during an argument about whether or not the Whitewater hearings, which involved  investigations into the real estate investments of then-President Bill and his wife, Hillary Clinton, should be delayed until after the Simpson trial was over. During the argument D’Amato feigned an exaggerated Japanese accent and referred to the Simpson trial judge as “little Judge Ito.” Not only was it disrespectful of another public official and demeaning in every respect, it was a totally inaccurate representation. Lance Ito is American, born in America in the state of California.

After a couple of days of criticism, D’Amato issued a weak tea apology before he apologized more sincerely. Here’s how I described it in Anatomy of a Trial:

“Although he spoke to a early empty [Senate] chamber, it still made the news.

“‘In barely audible tones, a chastened and visibly nervous Senator Alfonse M. D’Amato delivered a rare apology on the Senate floor today, calling his heavily accented remarks about the Japanese-American judge in the O.J. Simpson case “totally wrong and inappropriate,”‘ The New York Times reported.”


Where’s the Watchdog in this Arrangement?

Call me cynical, but how this differs from foxes guarding hens, I can’t fathom:

Scott Walker proposal would put Supreme Court in charge of Judicial Commission

And despite risking the sting of disdain from my relatively new state mates (I’ve lived in Wisconsin for 13 years, but not nearly long enough to be considered a true Wisconsinite, never mind that a great-grandmother was born and grew up here and her father, my great-great-grandfather is buried here), I’m sticking my foot in it by pointing to my former host state of California as an excellent model for all states’ judicial oversight/disciplinary bodies, even though it didn’t start out that way.

Initially, the California Commission on Judicial Performance had a majority membership of judges and was under the authority of the state’s Supreme Court.

The commission, the first in the country, was created in 1961 with a nine-member membership of five judges, two lawyers and two members of the public and powers to investigate allegations of judicial misconduct. While the commission could recommend the removal or other discipline of a judge, the Supreme Court had the final say on any such recommendation. Also, commission proceedings leading to its recommendations were held in secret.

Two decades ago, the commission underwent some radical changes. Voters approved a statewide proposition that increased commission membership to 11 of three judges, two lawyers and six public members. Other changes mandated “open hearings in all cases involving formal charges, the amendment conferred the authority for censure and removal determinations upon the commission, rather than the Supreme Court, and transferred the authority for promulgating rules governing the commission from the Judicial Council [which is chaired by the state’s Chief Justice] to the commission.”

Another plus is that commission appointments was not a monopoly held by any one person or body. Of the current 11 members, three were appointed by the state Supreme Court,  four by the governor, two by the state Assembly speaker and two by the state Senate Rules Committee.

I don’t know specifics, but during my time with the Los Angeles Superior Court from 1991-2002, my understanding was that the number of investigations increased, commission proceedings were reported in the news media, the commission took more disciplinary actions and public confidence in the commission increased significantly.

Given that experience, Wisconsin would do well to adopt something similar, although in the current climate of consolidating power and control at the center, that is about as likely as foxes being great hen house cops.

How great it would be if that other would-be watchdog, the news media, would point that out.



The Twenty-Year Taint–Still Misdirected

When I see commentaries like this Mankato (MN) Free Press opinion piece,  Our View: Cameras in courtroom should proceed, citing a 20-year-old  anomaly as the reason to bar cameras from courtrooms, I shake my head. 

It’s not that I disagree with it. I do. Instead, it’s why a trial from two decades ago remains the standard bearer, or maybe that should be gold standard of, or actually the great barrier, to permitting public access to the nation’s courtrooms?

Here’s the Manakato Free Press editorial opening paragraph:

“The O.J. Simpson trial may have made for gripping TV, but it isn’t what the public would see if cameras were allowed in more Minnesota courtrooms.”

Neither the Simpson trial nor “gripping TV” is what the public sees in Los Angeles, California, or the other 35 or so states that allow courtroom-camera coverage. Although California tightened its courtroom-camera coverage rules a year or two after the Simpson trial, to primarily give trial judges more discretion over whether to allow cameras in cases they presided over, that state has continued to allow camera coverage. Among the hundreds of trials in California since Simpson at which cameras were permitted was Phil Spector’s murder trial, both the 2007 trial and the 2009 retrial.

Dozens of high-profile trials in other states in the past twenty years have also been televised, most with much hoo-ha. Then there was the Oscar Pistorius trial in South Africa just this year, which was the first trial ever televised in that country. Although some were media clamors at trials such as the 2011 Casey Anthony trial, that was by no means the fault of cameras in the courtrooms. Rather it was the same kind of media hype that turned a number of trials into media spectacles, such as the 2004 trial of Scott Peterson for murdering his wife, Laci, and Martha Stewart’s obstruction-of-justice trial, also in 2004, neither of which had camera coverage.

There are far more compelling reasons than not to permit camera coverage of trials in this country. The Mankato Free Press cited one in the subhead of its piece:

“Why it matters: The more access the public has to how the criminal justice system works, the more they will know about it.”

Another, and I think a more important, reason is because it should be the public’s right to be able to observe the country’s and every state’s justice systems at work.


Don’t Distract Voters!

This is the haiku I wrote 20 years ago about the solution California’s Acting Secretary of State Tony Miller came up with about his concern that voters would stay home on Nov. 8 watching the Simpson trial on TV instead of going to the polls:

Tony Miller wants

Recess on election day.

A nation transfixed.


He asked Simpson trial judge, Lance Ito, to suspend court for two days–election day and the day before–thus remove the temptation for people to follow the trial instead of getting out to vote.

Ironically, whether or not the trial, and ongoing pretrial proceedings, should even be televised was the subject of a hearing and ruling on those two days.

Despite Coverage, Pistorius is No OJS

Expert: Screaming gives Pistorius ‘major problem’ is the most recent headline I’ve seen about the murder trial of South African double amputee Olympic athlete Oscar Pistorius. I see headlines like that only because I set an Oscar Pistorius Google News Alert and because they occasionally appear on my AOL daily news feed.

For months before the Pistorius trial began, pundits predicted that it would equal or eclipse the 1995 O.J. Simpson criminal trial in terms of public interest and media coverage, which includes cameras in the courtroom.

While it has gotten extensive coverage, now that the case in deep in the prosecution’s evidence presentation phase, it is clearly nowhere close to the international phenomenon of the Simpson trial, or even the 2005 Michael Jackson child-molestation trial, both in California.

The fact that these are not nightly news or daily newspaper headlines in this country give evidence that the Pistorius trial has yet to rise to the level of an international notorious trial, a la Simpson and Jackson.

This anecdote is telling:

In the early stages of the Simpson trial, a lawyer friend of the trial judge, Lance Ito, told him about a trip she had just returned from that included a stay in Tibet where all anybody had to say was “the trial” and everybody knew without question the reference was to the O.J. Simpson trial. I venture to guess that nothing close to that is occurring with Pistorius in Tibet or most countries other than South Africa.

Also, during the Jackson trial, hordes of Jackson fans in countries around the globe not only followed it, but rallied in support of him in large gatherings and other venues. I don’t see that happening–either in support of or against–Oscar Pistorius.

It is, though, an interesting trial to follow.

Court or Jester, But Not Both

Some people who find themselves in court might think the judge considers him- or herself a comedian, but those folks probably aren’t exactly objective.

But judges who are deliberately trying to be entertainers? While not unheard of — I know of a judge in Tennessee who did gigs as a pretty credible Elvis impersonator and a judge in California who played in a rock band — it is pretty rare.

But the night job as a stand-up comic of part-time New Jersey municipal judge Vincent Sicari, aka Vince August, was too much for the New Jersey Supreme Court. Last Thursday, New Jersey’s high court unanimously ruled that Vinnie “Chuckles” Sicari/August had to choose one job or the other because his “two careers are ‘incompatible’.”

The five-year-veteran part-time jurist, whose act has warmed up “The Daily Show” and “Colbert Report” audiences, appears rather regularly at Carolines comedy club on Broadway, which makes up the approximate 250 comedy performances a year,  apparently takes his comedic talents more seriously than his judicial path. According to AOL News, which reported this story, Sicali resigned from his $13,000-a-year position as a judge.

No worries about giving up any benefits that job might have provided, though. The now-former judge’s membership in the Screen Actors Guild includes healthcare coverage. And that is no laughing matter



Judge Can’t Moonlight As A Comedian, Court Says


No Cameras Don’t Mean No Drama

Reading this Bloomburg News report, U.K. Judges Face O.J. Simpson-Style Trials With Cameras in Court, one might think there was only one trial ever that had camera coverage.

That’s only one misleading implication in this story. Another one and an outright error show up in the opening paragraphs. Here are those paragraphs:

“The U.K. justice system, where judges in criminal cases still wear 18th century-style horsehair wigs and winged collars, will take a step toward U.S.-style legal dramas when cameras are allowed in court.

“The judiciary is allowing English cases to be filmed for the first time outside of the Supreme Court starting in October, introducing a system that began in the U.S. in the early 1990s, when the O.J. Simpson murder trial captivated a global audience. The move, which comes after a decade of lobbying by British broadcasters, heralds an era of transparency in a profession steeped in tradition.”

So let’s start with the headline.

Allowing courtroom-camera coverage in no way means that U.K. judges will be faced with O.J. Simpson-style trials–whatever that is supposed to mean.

With thousands of court cases photographed, videotaped and broadcast live over the past three-plus decades, it is beyond absurd to think that U.K. proceedings with camera access will approximate just one of those cases.

The misleading statement in the first paragraph, that cameras turn courtroom proceedings into legal  dramas, is equally ludicrous. Of the countless photographed and televised courtroom proceedings that have occurred in the U.S. and the dozens I have personally witnessed, those that could even come close to “legal dramas” are rare.

In fact, I know of more trials that could have been termed legal dramas where cameras were not allowed than proceedings where cameras were allowed. James Joseph “Whitey” Bulger Jr., Scott Peterson, Michael Jackson and Martha Stewart criminal trials come immediately to mind.

The error in the first paragraph is the assertion that “a system that began in the U.S. in the early 1990s, when the O.J. Simpson murder trial captivated a global audience.” Cameras have been allowed in California courtrooms since 1981 when the state approved a temporary rule permitting camera access. That rule became permanent in 1984.

Florida recently celebrated the 35th anniversary of its pioneering program of allowing courtroom-camera access, which started a nationwide trend.

Two former Florida Supreme Court chief justices and a former associate justice reported in a 2009 article in The Florida Bar News on the success of that policy over the years.

This is the conclusion of the associate justice: “Proudly, Florida celebrates 30 years of cameras in courtrooms because cameras make better citizens knowledgeable and able to participate in bringing needed changes to courts and to the justice system.”

The entire Bloomberg article is misleading because it implies that cameras are being allowed to report and record trials and other court-of-first-instance proceedings.

Opponents and skeptics “…warn it could affect the actions of judges and lawyers who may play to the cameras.”

On the upside, Richard Moorhead, a professor of law and ethics at University College London speculated that “Judges will pay a little more attention to public opinion than they once did.”

But wait! It wasn’t until I got to the end of this article that I found that “A full roll-out of cameras in the U.K. Court of Appeal is scheduled to start in October, with access eventually extended to sentencing decisions in criminal courts.”
Court of Appeal? Not trial courts?
I assume U.K. Court or Appeal sessions approximate those at the appellate-court level in this country. They basically involve a judicial review of the record of proceedings in lower courts. In other words, boring! That is why rarely, and I mean very rarely, do news organizations ever ask to get their cameras in courts of appeal.
So what drama are anti-camera U.K.ers worried about?
Too bad media coverage of one nearly 20-year-old trial is still contaminating the thinking of legal officials around the world and limiting public access to courts.

No Courtroom Camera, No Trial Buzz?

Although I have witnessed the difference courtroom-camera coverage can have in media reports of trials and, in fact, I wrote about that in my 1997 Court Manager article “What A Difference A Lens Makes”  http://jerriannehayslett.com/pdf/What_a_Difference_a_Lens_Makes.PDF, and even though I support cameras in courtrooms, I take exception to the assertions in this National Public Radio report that aired yesterday.

Lack Of Video Kills Media Buzz At Whitey Bulger Trial


In this broadcast, NPR reporter Tovia Smith says:

“It all raises that age-old question, if a blockbuster trial happens in court and no cameras are around to broadcast it, can it really be a blockbuster trial? Harvard Law professor Charles Nesson says not really.”

Then Charles Nesson says:

“It makes it literally invisible, not a public trial.”

I beg to differ.

Who, including NPR’s Tovia Smith and Harvard’s Charles Nesson, can possibly argue — at least with a straight face — that the 2005 Michael Jackson child molestation trial in Santa Maria, California, wasn’t a “block buster” or that it was “literally invisible”? No cameras in the courtroom for that case.

I know, not only because I could not watch any of the court proceedings on television, but because I consulted on that case and discussed with the judge his thinking on whether or not to allow cameras in.

And how about the 2004 Martha Stewart insider trading trial? No cameras there. Yet every aspect of the courtroom proceedings was aired by the legions of reporters covering it?

Don’t you think the media would have covered every inch the so-called 9/11 20th hijacker Zacarias Moussaoui’s 2002 trial, had he not pled guilty before the case went to trial? Cameras would not have been in that courtroom either, since it was a federal case in a federal courthouse and, except for couple of limited experiments with civil cases, federal court system does not permit camera coverage.

And what about the 1996-7 O.J. Simpson civil trial in which Simpson was sued for wrongful death by the families of murder victims, Simpson ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman? The judge presiding over that trial vehemently denied camera access to his Santa Monica courtroom, yet the media no only covered the actual trial (but maybe not the accompanying circus outside) nearly as closely as they did the 1995 criminal trial, the Santa Monica police issued riot gear and marshaled its mounted units to keep the raucous crowd outside under control.

Most people I poll in presentations I do on high-profile trials think the trial of Scott Peterson, convicted in 2004 of killing his pregnant wife Laci on Christmas Eve of 2002, was televised. It wasn’t.

A number of lawyers and even judges who previously were anti-camera, subsequently have reversed their thinking.

One notable lawyer is Peterson’s defense attorney Mark Geragos, who firmly believes his client is not guilty.

Geragos said at a 2005 conference, which I quote in my book Anatomy of a Trial, “I think we should have had camera coverage to get the facts out there for people to form opinions for themselves. The venom the public expressed about Scott Peterson was based on urban legends. It was not based on the evidence presented at trial.”  http://courtsandmedia.org/conferences/rnccm-conf05-reno.html

I think I agree more with the comments posted at the end of the NPR story that with the premise of the story itself. Here’s a particularly cogent one posted by Sam Hedrick:

“The longer I listened to this story, the madder I got. It’s a bunch of reporters whining because they can’t take video cameras into the courtroom and are missing out on some “great television”. These are not journalists,they’re talking heads. News isn’t supposed to be about making entertainment, it’s about conveying information. Without that, it’s just more worthless crap. This is a trial about a man’s life- maybe a life wasted, but nonetheless this is about justice, not TV.”