October Festival Guide

Why no court cameras in Huguely case?

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – The U.S. Supreme Court has said, basically, there should be cameras in the courtroom. So why don’t we have them in Charlottesville for the Huguely trial? And why aren’t they in the Supreme Court?

Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Edward Hogshire has said no to cameras, but one portion of the courtroom is reserved for artists furiously scribbling drawings for news outlets. Some 150 members of the press have been given credentials.

The question about cameras is an old one, answered – in essence – long ago by the Supreme Court “to make sure the public can observe and ascertain for itself that the trial is fair and the accused’s right to a fair trial is respected,” said Joe Mathewson, author of “The Supreme Court and the Press: The Indispensable Conflict” and a journalism professor at Northwestern University.

But many states like Virginia have left that decision to the judge’s discretion. Most of them here say no, although some allow a pool still photographer.

The O.J. Simpson trial, and much more recently, the Casey Anthony case, are often seen as illustrations of how video cameras can turn trials into freak shows.

But actually, they show what happens when judges lose control of their courtrooms.

Mathewson said the cameras in themselves don’t lead to turmoil or grandstanding. Ultimately, he said, it’s the judge who sets the tone.

The problem is that we in the media typically request camera access in high-profile trials like the Huguely trial – cases that have already blown out of proportion. It’s hard to blame judges who are trying to keep their trials from spinning out of control.

Maybe we should instead ask for cameras in smaller cases, so everyone can get used to the idea. Mathewson said that’s a good idea. Many jurisdictions across the country and in Canada that have gotten used to courtroom cameras like them, he said.

Currently, cameras are admitted by two-thirds of state Supreme Courts, to hear their oral arguments.  No, it’s not sexy trial testimony, but it’s important, scales-of-justice stuff.

“Many have done it for a decade or even two,” Mathewson told CBS 6 during a telephone interview. “They continue to do it because it works so well and, in fact, some judges of appellate courts have said that this is good PR . . . and it’s good for our democracy and good for the court itself . . .”

Current Supreme Court justices are split on the idea of courtroom video cameras in general. Justice Scalia says news outlets only show snippets that can be taken out of context.

But how is that different from an artist’s subjective drawing, or a single photograph that only shows one frozen moment?

Most of the Supremes don’t want their own proceedings filmed – even though the vast majority of Americans want to watch them decide the health care argument, polls show. Some justices argue it takes away from the dignity of their proceedings, while others admit arguments and discussions might drag out for the cameras.

But as Mathewson points out, the U.S. Supreme Court, like state appellate courts, hear oral arguments. There’s not as much opportunity for fireworks during trial testimony or cross-examination, like there was during the recent televised trial for Michael Jackson’s doctor.

And remember, the media is changing at light speed, along with the rapid evolution of technology and shared information.  It is even likely courtroom cameras will rapidly become the norm, as they have in legislatures and other ruling bodies, such as Richmond’s City Council meetings.

Those who oppose courtroom cameras are fond of saying they create a circus-like atmosphere.

Really? What do you call what’s going on up in Charlottesville, with the mushroom-like forest of satellite dishes and a crush of reporters from across the country hogging much of the downtown parking there? It’s a case that involves money, attractive youths and Thomas Jefferson’s elite university.

Maybe a single pool video camera wouldn’t turn down the heat on overcooked trials like this one, but at least it might clear away a good bit of the smoke.

That’s my take. Post yours on WTVR.com.

The U.S. Supreme Court has said, basically, there should be cameras in the courtroom. So why don’t we have them in Charlottesville for the Huguely trial? And why aren’t they in the Supreme Court?

Charlottesville Circuit Court Judge Edward Hogshire has said no to cameras, but one portion of the courtroom is reserved for artists furiously scribbling drawings for news outlets. Some 150 members of the press have been given credentials.

The question about cameras is an old one, answered – in essence – long ago by the Supreme Court “to make sure the public can observe and ascertain for itself that the trial is fair and the accused’s right to a fair trial is respected,” said Joe Mathewson, author of “The Supreme Court and the Press: The Indispensable Conflict” and a journalism professor at Northwestern University.

But many states like Virginia have left that decision to the judge’s discretion. Most of them here say no, although some allow a pool still photographer.

The O.J. Simpson trial, and muchmore recently, the Casey Anthony case, are often seen as illustrations of how video cameras can turn trials into freak shows.

But actually, they show what happens when judges lose control of their courtrooms.

Mathewson said the cameras in themselves don’t lead to turmoil or grandstanding. Ultimately, he said, it’s the judge who sets the tone.

The problem is that we in the media typically request camera access in high-profile trials like the Huguely trial – cases that have already blown out of proportion. It’s hard to blame judges who are trying to keep their trials from spinning out of control.

Maybe we should instead ask for cameras in smaller cases, so everyone can get used to the idea. Mathewson said that’s a good idea. Many jurisdictions across the country and in Canada that have gotten used to courtroom cameras like them, he said.

Currently, cameras are admitted by two-thirds of state Supreme Courts, to hear their oral arguments.  No, it’s not sexy trial testimony, but it’s important, scales-of-justice stuff.

“Many have done it for a decade or even two,” Mathewson told CBS 6 during a telephone interview. “They continue to do it because it works so well and, in fact, some judges of appellate courts have said that this is good PR . . . and it’s good for our democracy and good for the court itself . . .”

Current Supreme Court justices are split on the idea of courtroom video cameras in general. Justice Scalia says news outlets only show snippets that can be taken out of context.

But how is that different from an artist’s subjective drawing, or a single photograph that only shows one frozen moment?

Most of the Supremes don’t want their own proceedings filmed – even though the vast majority of Americans want to watch them decide the health care argument, polls show. Some justices argue it takes away from the dignity of their proceedings, while others admit arguments and discussions might drag out for the cameras.

But as Mathewson points out, the U.S. Supreme Court, like state appellate courts, hear oral arguments. There’s not as much opportunity for fireworks during trial testimony or cross-examination, like there was during the recent televised trial for Michael Jackson’s doctor.

And remember, the media is changing at light speed, along with the rapid evolution of technology and shared information.  It is even likely courtroom cameras will rapidly become the norm, as they have in legislatures and other ruling bodies, such as Richmond’s City Council meetings.

Those who oppose courtroom cameras are fond of saying they create a circus-like atmosphere.

Really? What do you call what’s going on up in Charlottesville, with the mushroom-like forest of satellite dishes and a crush of reporters from across the country hogging much of the downtown parking there? It’s a case that involves money, attractive youths and Thomas Jefferson’s elite university.

Maybe a single pool video camera wouldn’t turn down the heat on overcooked trials like this one, but at least it might clear away a good bit of the smoke.

That’s my take. Post yours on WTVR.com.


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