Tag Archives: Los Angeles County

Public Facility, Official Proceeding. Who Should Profit?

 People vs. Simpson haiku I wrote twenty years ago today:

TV copyright.

Does someone own the signal?

The court should profit.


The trial judge, Lance Ito, after hearing that CNN is selling a video package of the preliminary hearing, asked court staff to explore ways the court could reap some of the profit broadcasters were making covering the trial.

This was an idea taken up by Los Angeles County officials who formed a task force to look into ways that the county could reap some of the revenue or find a way to generate revenue from the media coverage of  the Simpson case. Their reasoning was that given that the media had free access to public facilities, was using electricity free of charge, and their overwhelming presence was costing the county a great deal of money in security services, and not just when court was in session. Because the criminal courts supervising judge had arranged for the media to set up a large area in the courthouse as their operations center. The county very much wanted to find some way to recoup some of that expense.

Simpson Trial Participants Update Found Wanting

Every so often, a Simpson trial “where are they now” story pops up. I guess the 19th anniversary of the “1994 ‘Trial of the Century’ double-murder case” — at least in the mind of HLN scribe Jonathan Anker (never mind that opening statements in the trial didn’t begin until January 1995) — was as good an excuse as any.

I also should have been forewarned by the “1994 ‘Trial of the Century” in his The O.J. Simpson Trial: Where are they now?  “slide show” posted today on the HLN website, that  it might contain an error or two.

And it does. The very first slide is of the trial judge, Lance Ito. The caption says:

“Judge Lance Ito: Ito remained a Los Angeles Superior Court judge until 2012, when budget cuts closed his courtroom. He now oversees the appointment of experts in Los Angeles County death penalty cases. In a recent interview, Ito estimated he’d presided over more than 150 cases since the Simpson trial. Before leaving the bench, Judge Ito’s courtroom was the only one in the courthouse without a name placard out front; thieves kept swiping the well-known judge’s nameplate, so the court finally decided to stop replacing it.”

To his credit, Anker did get a couple of things right in that blurb. One is the spelling of Ito’s name.

Snark aside, Anker did get a number of things wrong. One is that Ito is no longer a judge. Wrong. Ito remains an active judge on the Los Angeles Superior Court. His current term expires in two years and, according to a conversation I had with him less than a week ago, he is contemplating whether to run for a fifth six-year term.

It is true that Ito’s was one of 55 courtrooms in Los Angeles County closed recently because of draconian budget cuts. He did not, however, lose his judgeship as a result. He is serving as a fill-in judge in his colleagues’ absence, and he is handling special projects assigned by the court leadership.


Darden’s Opinion, Relevant or Not

Regardless of his performance in the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial, some might find former Los Angeles County prosecutor Christopher Darden’s views about the Zimmerman case interesting. CNN’s Piers Morgan apparently did. Darden’s opinion pretty much boils down to, the case is race based and Zimmerman has the upper hand.

Former O.J. Simpson prosecutor Christopher Darden on the Zimmerman trial: “It’s a race case without question”


What interests me more than Darden’s opinion is that someone whose 15 minutes of fame was such an embarrassment remains relevant coming up on 20 years later. What accounts for that? A good publicist?

To Shield or Not to Shield

When I worked as a newspaper journalist, I strongly favored strong shield laws. Reporters needed to be able to protect their sources or they would be out of business. Pretty cut and dried.

When I left the newspaper industry to become the Los Angeles County court system’s information officer,  I became less dogmatic. The primary reason was a fuzzying of just who legitimately could be identified as a journalist and what exactly comprised the news media.

The question arose when a judge got a request from a tabloid TV show to let their camera record a civil court proceeding.

It came up several times during the O.J. Simpson criminal and civil trials. One man presented an expired “Writers Union” membership card as a media credential. Another man confessed the news outlet he listed as his employer was no more than a gleam in his brain. Yet another man who had never worked as a journalist  insisted that his intent to publish somewhere, he had yet to determine where, what he would observe in the courtroom entitled him to a media seat.

And the Santa Barbara court executive officer asked me, when I served as a consultant on the Michael Jackson child-molestation case, to help him formulate guidelines that would enable his staff to differentiate real journalists from wanna-bes or pretenders.

That is a question embedded in a debate in Massachusetts, which has no specific shield law on its books.  More overt in the discussion is whether that state’s common law privilege is adequate in protecting journalists from being required to reveal their unnamed sources and/or produce unpublished or unaired  information gathered or prepared in the course of news gathering.

New life for a media shield law


A Massachusetts state legislator who is a former newspaper publisher wants to end that ambiguity by having a specific law on the books.  In addition to clearing up the current common-law ambiguity, I hope the folks in the Bay State come up with a way to clarify the murky waters of whom its shield law would cover.

Oscar Pistorius and Media-Created Bias?

When does media coverage of high-profile events tread into the murky waters of affecting the outcome of a court case or person’s reputation?

That question has popped up in the charges against and legal proceedings of  South African Olympic hero Oscar Pistorius, who is accused of killing his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp — just as it has in just about every notorious case since the beginning of time, or perhaps since Gutenberg invented the printing press.

That issue was at the heart of the change of venue that moved the Rodney King-beating trial from Los Angeles County’s San Fernando Valley just 25 miles up the freeway to the city of Simi Valley in the adjacent  county of Ventura. The impact of media coverage was also asserted in just about every other high-profile case in the Los Angeles Superior Court during my 1991-2002 tenure there as information officer and media liaison, including the 1995 O.J.Simpson trial.

South Africa has at least one anti-bias measure in its toolbox that puts the onus on the news media there that U.S. courts don’t have. They can hold the news media contempt, if it’s determined that coverage has created bias.  http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/feb/19/oscar-pistorius-media-south-africa-contempt

True, the criteria in South Africa’s contempt provision have become less intimidating  and subjective in recent years, thanks to a 2007 review of the provision by that country’s highest court. The threshold before the review permitted contempt charges “if a report ‘tended’ to prejudice the administration of justice.”

Such a measure in the United States would have chilled the news media right out of the country’s courthouses. It’s so arbitrary, I can’t think of a single trial of significant public interest in which one side or the other couldn’t have made a stickable argument for excluding media coverage or that might have led to the news media being liable for contempt.

The South African high court, however, amended the provision so that now “…the question a court must ask is whether there will be ‘real risk’ of substantial prejudice to the administration of justice,” which raises the bar considerably for all parties in a court case. It, in essence,  says that “The question must now be decided in the context of a balancing exercise between two competing constitutional rights: the right to a fair trial and the right to freedom of expression,” according to The Guardian article.

I see a substantial difference in the wording of the pre- and post-high court rulings. But even though the current criteria brings the South African standard closer to the Unites States standard, holding the news media in contempt for their coverage of a case rare to non-existent in this country,  thanks to the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of a free press. And fewer than a handful of cases have been permitted retrials on the grounds that media coverage affected the verdict. Billie Sol Estes and Sam Sheppard, are the only ones that come immediately to my mind.