Tag Archives: cameras in the courtroom

Wrong! Wrong! And What Are They Waiting For?

An online news outlet reported in a story, A New California Law Brings Hope of An Appeal For Lyle And Erik Menendez, that the Menendez brothers 1993 trial was “first trial that was televised and America couldn’t get enough.”

That is the first “wrong” in this piece. Broadcast and still photography covered Estes v. Texas in 1965. The first state in the country to enact official court rules allowing camera coverage in its state courts, which led to camera coverage of Chandler v. Florida.

Perhaps the article writer meant that Menendez brothers trial was the first trial in California to be televised, but that would have been wrong, too. The 1992 Rodney King beating trial was not only televised (I sat in that courtroom every day, just as I did both of the later Menendez brothers trials), TV viewers couldn’t get enough of that either. Neither could they get enough if the riots in L.A. that erupted after the four police officers were acquitted, nor of the trial of men who beat trucker Reginald Denny who just happened to be driving through a riot area.

The writer also got several details of the Menendez murders wrong.

What begs the question for me, though, was that even though California passed a law several years ago that might open the door for a Menendez brothers appeal, they have yet to do so. Why not? Especially since the clock is ticking toward a deadline.

On Your Mark, Get Ready, Wrong!

When I read the news in The Hollywood Reporter that ‘Law & Order: True Crime — The Menendez Murders’ Ordered to Series at NBCI could only hope the series will be more accurate than this promo.

Here is the misinfo that is probably the most blatant:

“The siblings, who were 21 and 18 years old, respectively, at the time of the murders, were tried separately but eventually found guilty in a third trial after no verdicts were rendered in the first two because of hung juries.”

There were only two Menendez brothers’ trials. The first began on July 20, 1993, and ended on January 28, 1994. Although it was a single trial, two juries were seated, one to determine the guilt or innocence of older brother Lyle, the other to judge the guilt or innocence of younger brother Erik. Both juries hung and the trial judge, Stanley Weisberg, declared a mistrial in each case. The second trial began on August 23, 1995, and ended on March 20, 1996. That trial had a single jury which found both brothers guilty and Weisberg sentenced them both to life in prison without possibility of parole.

I attended, handled media issues and interfaced with the judge on both trials.

Less offending but confusing is the sentence in The Hollywood Reporter theis “Like the Simpson trial, the Menendez brothers trial became an early hit for then-burgeoning cable channel CourtTV.” The reason it’s confusing is because it doesn’t specify which Menendez trial “became an early hit for … CourtTV.” What does that matter? CourtTV televised only the first Menendez trial. Weisberg didn’t allow a TV camera in the courtroom during the second one. Because of that ban broadcasters debated how extensively to cover it. The second Menendez trial definitely wasn’t key to CourtTV making its bones.


The Rest of Ito’s Life–So Far

Nearly 20 years ago — January 1996, to be exact — Lance Ito leaned back in the black leather chair in his chambers, propped his feet up on his cluttered desk and clasped his hands behind his head.

“Well, Jerrianne,” he asked, “What do you think I should do with the rest of my life?” [Chapter 1, page 8, Anatomy of a Trial: Public Loss, Lessons Learned from The People vs. O.J. Simpson]

According to a NBC News “flashback” and other retrospectives marking the 20th anniversary of O.J. Simpson’s acquittal on two counts of first degree murder for the deaths of his ex-wife Nicole Brown and an unwitting acquaintance, Ronald Goldman who was indeed in the wrong place at the wrong time, Ito presided over 500, more or less, subsequent criminal trials, some with camera coverage.

This past January, 19 years after he quizzed me on what he should do with the rest of his life, he retired from the Los Angeles Superior Court. According to friends quoted in the NBC flashback, he’s having the time of his life and loving it immensely.

One thing he has not done and, to my knowledge, has no plan to do, is cash in on his fame or, as some think, infamy, the Simpson trial generated. No book with a million-plus dollar advance, which many of the trial principals did. No TV show, which he could have done and raked in a bundle of easy-street money. No rubber-chicken circuit with pricey speaking fees.

Nope, he just went to work, took home his judge’s paycheck and did his job.

“… close friends say the publicity from the Simpson case didn’t go to his head,” the NBC retrospective reported.

“‘He is so humble. It’s kind of amazing, considering the spotlight he got put in,’ said Sergio Robleto, the former commanding officer of the LAPD homicide unit who was also a detective.”

So why the public image that he was an incompetent star-struck celebrity wanna-be that began to dog him during the trial and has remained accepted truth ever since?

Three reasons, so far as I’m concerned.

(1) He was interviewed on a CBS TV-affiliate weeks before opening statements in the trial on a subject that had no connection with that or any other trial. The interview, however, was exploited by the station and violated every condition he required before he agreed to do the interview. That episode is detailed on pages 25-28 of my book Anatomy of a Trial. 

(2) He didn’t make the TV camera maintain a static shot of the courtroom well and bench with no zooming or panning, which the media would have found boring and unable to maintain the kind of huge audiences that would watch more ‘dramatic’ coverage.

(3) He didn’t clamp down hard enough until well into the trial on cavorting lawyers who played to the media or on the few members of the media who misbehaved.

When he did, it just angered them all the more.

It is all history now. I’m glad Ito survived it all as well as he did and that he’s enjoying this new phase of his life.

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.

TV Courtroom Seat Demand Became a Hollow Ring

Gavel to gavel,

All channels had to be there.

One by one pull out.


Leading up to the trial and in the early days of it, every TV station and network clamored for courtroom access and full-time seats. Thanks to gavel-to-gavel camera coverage, most broadcasters eventually opted for watching the proceedings on TV monitors in the media center three floors up from the floor the courtroom was on.

Why, Oh Why, Oh Why!

Remote camera pans

Courtroom when court’s in recess.

That’s against the rules.


The rules seemed so easy to follow. One was that cameras had to be off/not shooting when court was in session. The reason the wall-mounted remotely controlled TV camera wasn’t, according to folks with Court TV, who was in charge of operating the camera, is because they needed to test it. Well, this was May, months after the trial began. And if it did need to be tested or adjusted, they should have let me or the bailiff know and gotten approval do operate it during recess.

Kato the ‘House Guest’ Not the Dog

A D.A. witness

Talks a lot, but says nothing.

What does Kato know?


And who among those who followed the Simpson murder trial, could forget Simpson (loosely labeled) house guest, Kato Kaelin? Or figure out what he was all about? Or get over the unbelievable coincidence that Kato was also the name of Simpson’s murdered ex-wife, Nicole Brown’s, dog? Or was that a coincidence?

Although Kaelin’s fame, such as it was, persists, the one mention in Anatomy had to do with cameras in the courtroom.

“Whether cameras substantially affect trial participants’ behavior remains open to debate. … at least one witness, Kato Kaelin, appeared to treat his turn on the witness stand like an audition,” I wrote.

Annie was so Special

Her pictures are fine.

How about some in the courtroom?

Annie Leibovitz


So the New York-based celebrity photo-diva gets permission to be in the courtroom with her camera for a short while one day with a same conditions and restrictions other photographers had to follow. Most notably, she had to share her photos with news organizations of who had cameras in the courtroom and she couldn’t take any pictures when court wasn’t in session. She violated both, but apparently didn’t care, since it was a one-time gig for her, so she had no incentive to comply.

The other photogs were ticked and so was I.

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.


To Pull the Plug or Not Pull the Plug

Window for the world.

Hearing scheduled to discuss.

Should he pull the plug?


Judge Ito holds a hearing to determine if he should ban cameras in the courtroom.