Cameras in the Courtroom
a panel discussion hosted by The Mississippi Associated Press Broadcasters Association
a panel discussion hosted by The Mississippi Associated Press Broadcasters AssociationJune 28, 2003
Frank Fisher: Good morning, everybody. My name is Frank Fisher. I'm the Associated Press bureau chief for Mississippi, and I appreciate you making the time to come to this workshop, uh, given, uh, by the Mississippi AP Broadcasters Association on cameras in the courtroom.
Randy Bell: Thanks, Frank. Uh, we have as he said a, uh, distinguished panel, and let me give you a little information about the various people we have today.
Justice Graves: I think one major advantage uh, that may result is just that citizens will have an opportunity, uh, via electronic uh, and broadcast media to view what actually takes place inside trial courtrooms in Mississippi. I'm not naive enough to think that some 15 or 30 seconds of broadcast on the TV station is going to provide a wealth of knowledge about the inner workings of this court system. But to the extent that, that coverage uh, provokes debate, uh, provokes some interest, provokes someone to learn, to read about it, to study more about the judicial system, to the extent that that can be accomplished, I think that is a very, uh, positive thing, uh, and, and there are a number of other things, advantages, but you asked me to just give you the one. I think there are a number of others.
Bell: All right, thank you. Let's uh, get a contrasting view perhaps, or different perspective uh, from the media. Dave Vincent, uh, let me call on you now to uh, give us an advantage and disadvantage of the new rule.
Vincent: Well, I think there are a lot of advantages. Uh, one, the biggest advantage I see for broadcasters, uh, especially television, is that, um, we will have, like an artist, will have more colors in our pallette. Right now all we can do is uh, write a story. We might be able to hire an artist to go in and draw. But now we will be able to use uh, video. We will be able to use sound, which we have never been able to do in the past. And so we will be able to really convey what is going on in the courtroom. We will have all or many more colors to use in painting the picture of the story that is being broadcast that we have not been able to do in the past.
Bell: All right. Thanks, Dave. Uh, let's try the perspective of the uh, trial judge, shall we? Judge Alfonso.
Judge Alfonso: First of all, let me say that uh, my comments are directed to chancery court only. I'm going to let the uh, others speak to those with vast circuit court experience. Now you understand that chancery court primarily has to do with domestic relations. Certainly we hear other types of cases, so I qualify my remarks once again to the field of uh, domestic relations. I am very concerned about media access in chancery court domestic relations cases. I'm sure that uh, as Judge Graves certainly knows, and the others that were on the committee, I was adamantly opposed to public access to domestic relations child custody cases. The rule as it uh, came out gives the trial judge great discretion in limiting access in the field of domestic relations. However, what I wanted was a blanket prohibition, that there would be no access in domestic relations, child custody and divorce cases. And let me tell you just as briefly as I can why. Um, why would a trial judge open up a courtroom to a child custody case? Why would we permit TV coverage of a child custody case? That judge would have to decide two things: First of all, the child in front of them didn't matter. They weren't important enough, or the family wasn't important enough, or conversely, that there is such perceived public clamor of the details of that family's life. I don't think either are good reasons.
Bell: All right. We take it there are no advantages to the law as you see it.
Judge Alfonso: No, I'm, I am discussing only as I said, chancery domestic relations. I have no strong feelings on annexation, uh, the type of case that you had with the Imperial Palace. You know, I am not against access in those type of cases. I qualified it by saying domestic relations. All the other types of chancery, uh, I don't see the mechanical problems with the rule like I do in the field of domestic relations and particularly child custody.
Bell: Let's uh, turn now to a, uh, First Amendment battler, uh, in the courts, uh, (audience laughter) Leonard Van Slyke, uh, to talk about the issue at hand.
Van Slyke: Well I, I have uh, been interested in cameras for many years, uh, particularly because I feel like the public needs, uh, all the information that it can get about the court system. I think the court system has suffered, uh, along with the legal profession, an image problem for many years. I think a lot of that stems from just a lack of understanding by the general public. Now once again as Judge, Justice Graves said, I'm not naive enough to believe that this would solve all of the problems. However, I do believe that it will give uh, an opportunity for people to see their courts in action and to see how seriously the judge and the lawyers take their jobs and how important it is to the parties. Perhaps the next time they get that jury summons, they won't be as quick to try to find a reason to get off of the case.
Bell: All right. Thanks, Leonard. Beverly Luckett, how about another uh, perspective from the media side?
Luckett: I think it allows people who sometimes might otherwise not be able to attend the hearings to see justice carried out first hand. Uh, as others have said, that it will also help educate people on the uh, judicial process. And having covered a lot of trials, it will help journalists to do a better job, uh, with accuracy, uh, where we will have clips of people actually saying the things that we can use instead of us going back writing what was said, and it will help with interpretations of stories. Although I know in the editing process people can complain perhaps how a story was edited. But it will, a lot of times we talk about apathy with situations. I think you will have more people getting involved in the process and learning. Uh, when they are called for jury duty they will have some knowledge of how trials are carried out uh, and maybe peak some interest in the proceedings and also just uh, finding out how juries arrive at a verdict by uh, by just getting involved in seeing the cases, uh, so I think it is a good situation and it's a historical moment.
Bell: OK thanks. Justice, uh, Carlson, let's hear from you now on the pros and cons of this new rule.
Justice Carlson: Thank you. I should mention that since you expected Chief Justice Pittman here instead of me, that uh, he is where he needs to be. His wife Virginia unexpectedly had open heart surgery Thursday and she's doing fine, and but he does send his regrets for not being here. I should say also that because of his leadership uh, in this uh, rule that we have, that we are sitting here today talking about it.
Bell: All right. Last but not least, let's hear from Dennis Smith.
Smith: Well, one of the advantages is it's, it's going to bring about a greater spirit of cooperation in many ways among the, uh, competing, uh, television stations. I know just this past week, or couple of weeks ago, Bruce Barkley at WAPT and I met with Justice Green in Hinds County and went over some of the particulars there and the camera angles and things like that. She was very, she was also on the panel and she was very, very supportive of this whole process and so, uh, uh, we will see an opportunity not only for that but also clearly an opportunity to make sure that our stories are more correct, correctly done. Uh, the chances of making errors like perhaps that we have made in the past of quoting or misquoting people I think is going to be hopefully alleviated.
Justice Carlson: Randy, can I say one thing about what Dennis said?
Justice Carlson: And Dennis brings up a good point on the municipal and justice courts and why they were excluded. And I agree with what he is saying. That needs to be revisited and will prior uh, to the December 31, 2004. The approach of the Rules Committee on that point - and we discussed that point about municipal and justice courts - we wanted to take it from the standpoint that we wanted this rule to work and we felt like that with our courts of record, the chancery and circuit courts and county courts at the trial level, that those judges would make it work. That courts that were not of record, being city court, municipal court and justice court - there might not be the same spirit of cooperation, and I don't mean this in a derogatory manner toward municipal and justice court judges, but it might not be the spirit of cooperation and it might be, it might set it up possibly for failure versus success. And we wanted to make sure uh, that it did work and, again, I emphasize I am not slighting those judges. Uh, but they are not courts of record and yet I know the media would be interested in certainly many cases coming into those courts because, uh, and that's, I'm sure one reason why Dennis understandably so was interested in seeing that, and all of you are, in, in seeing those two courts put under the rule, and that is because in uh, these high profile cases if you will, that's the first court appearance they have. If you have somebody on a capital murder case they are not going into a circuit court. They are going before a justice court judge or a municipal court judge for a first appearance for a bond setting and the appointment of a lawyer and so forth, and certainly that's the first opportunity for the public to see what's going on in the judicial system with that case and we understand, I promise you, at the Supreme Court why that is important to you, but we want, agin we hope we were setting it up for success as opposed to a possible failure.
Bell: All right. Thanks for those, uh, excellent comments. And now we want to turn to you in the audience for what's on your mind, the questions you may have for panelists. Bruce?
Bruce Barkley: I wanted, I'd like to (inaudible) Judge Alfonso's concerns, uh, and wondered, Leonard or anybody on the panel, uh, obviously other states have adopted rules for cameras in the courtroom. Is there a solution to her concerns about the child custody cases and domestic abuse cases? Have other states or other examples, are they out there about how to handle that properly?
Van Slyke: Well I think, Bruce, as a, as a practical matter, uh, the kinds of cases that Judge Alfonso is concerned about are probably not going to be cases that are going to be covered. Uh, as, as I would see, and obviously you make the news decisions, but as I would see it, the kinds of cases in chancery that would more likely be covered would be the annexation case. Uh, perhaps there may be a high profile tax case, although I, I doubt it. Uh, there could be, could be a sitting governor or congressman or senator in a divorce that might be, might, might want (voice drowned out by audience laughter). If that is the case, uh, you know, I, I could understand that there would be a need to cover that. That person has subjected himself or herself to the uh, limelight by entering the political process.
Smith: Let me just one, one reference to that, Bruce, if, if you will. The, uh, obviously the domestic matters like we mentioned to you are in fact prohibited unless you can convince the judge. The judge has the right to say "Well, wait a minute. I'll, I'll consider this." So if there is a unique situation like Leonard with reference to, perhaps the Mabus situation, you convince the judge this is extremely important and definitely in the public interest, then the judge apparently has that right to say, "Well I think I will let the, let cameras in there."
Unidentified audience member: But to quote Judge Alfonso, wide perceived public clamor is not a good reason (inaudible).
Judge Alfonso: The, let me explain just a little bit about the law in uh, child custody cases. The Supreme Court uh, sent down an opinion several years ago and I'm grateful that they did because child custody is hard enough as it is, but they sent down an Albright case. It's called the Albright case and it gave us many many factors as trial judges to consider in, in which parent should have custody. The stability of the home. The stability of the employment. The degree of responsibility. Who has been the primary caretaker for the child. It's all these factors that we look to in a child custody case. The Supreme Court says don't weigh any one factor over another. Look at the totality of the circumstances. One of the factors is moral fitness of the parent. Now you tell me if you are going to report the moral fitness of the parent or the stability of the home or the school record of the child.
Audience member: Well I think, I mean
(momentary blank on tape)
Judge Alfonso: ...factors and say that this parent has been the primary caretaker of this child since birth. You don't punish a child because the mom or the dad had an affair. And I'm not talking about Mabus. I'm talking about your run of the mill custody case. You don't punish a child because the parent has had an affair. You look at all of the factors. So if you are going to report the coverage accurately you are going to report the trial judges' decision on all Albright. Now how are you going to do that in a 20-second sound bite?
Vincent: You know, if you look, I was looking at the RTNDA site this morning about all of the cameras in various uh, court systems in the, in the country and not all but very many have the same rules that we have here in Mississippi, so I don't think that it's really, what we have here in Mississippi, I don't think it's really out of line with what's happening throughout the country. I know we as broadcasters are very sensitive to uh, children's issues and I don't know that we would want to do anything to harm a child. Of course we wouldn't. So, uh, you know, I don't see where it's going to be a big deal. Now like the governor, that might be a different issue. But just the average person on the street, I don't know that we would be wanting to know that. I don't know that we have the right to know that.
Dick Rizzo: I wanted to just ask the three judges, looking at the circumstances and there's all levels of, of reaction to these rules by the judges and the journalists, what, uh, what do you advise the journalists that they need to do to facilitate this and to have this work? What, what is it, what are we required from your perspective to do so that this will, so that any of the perceptions or possible prejudices against this will be, will be uh, removed?
Justice Graves: I think my first advice to journalists would be to read the rule. One of the things that is most troublesome for me is repeated questions about matters which are explicitly dealt with in the rule and, and, and journalists probably are, are the same way a lot of lawyers will be about it. We will know that there is a rule on it. We just won't read it. So the first piece of advice is READ THE RULE. Uh, I would make sure that those with whom I work had some familiarity with the rule, uh, and and and make an effort to understand it, to know in what situations it is going to be applicable, the notice requirement, when you need to notify uh, the courts that you intend to cover a trial, and we recognize that there are often instances where, given the nature of the news business as regards some matters you may not know until the last minute that it is a matter that you intend to cover, that you actually have personnel available to go cover this versus covering something else, and, and, and so we hope that the judiciary is sensitive to the nature of the business of, of journalism and that's part of the reason I think it is so important uh, that we have meetings like this, that journalists endeavor to understand the court system and what it is judges have to deal with, and that judges make an effort to understand what it is journalists have to deal with. But if journalists are familiar uh, with the rules, work to enhance their relationship with the judiciary, uh, getting to know the court personnel, court staff. Uh, it's, it's a situation where, when I was a trial judge we always tried to develop that. Media would come into my courtroom. I would bring them right up front. If they are going to report, I want them to be able to see and hear. So I would bring them right up front right where my staff sat. Uh, if we were, if the jury was out deliberating, I know that what they really want to cover is when the verdict is read, and the litigants' reaction to the verdict being read, and so we would delay taking the verdict until we, we would call up the reporter so that they could go back and do some other work we would call them up and say, "Jury's back with a verdict and you know we'll wait 10 minutes for you to get over here." And in our situation the courthouse is across the street from the Clarion-Ledger. We are going to wait 10 minutes before we take it. It didn't hurt us to wait a few minutes to give them an opportunity to be there. But I think it's imperative that both the judiciary and the journalists work to develop a relationship because what we are both looking at, hopefully, in addition to I know that journalists want to make money and the judges want to get justice, but we want to enhance the public's knowledge about the court system and your job is to give them information. I think that's what both sides ultimately want to do.
Justice Carlson: Cooperation. Excuse me, judge. Go ahead.
Judge Alfonso: I was just going to point out one other thing. As, as, as Justice Graves said, the rule said that it's prohibitive "unless," and I'm grateful that it does read in that fashion, but I've been talking about children and uh, as Justice Graves and the others that were on the committee know, I was very concerned about another aspect of chancery court work that we do each week, which is conservatorships. What about the high profile person or the former political person that has become elderly, and uh, there is a request to open a conservatorship action for the public? Now y'all know what conservatorship is. It's when a person either through mental or physical infirmity can't take care of themselves and someone is requesting to be appointed the conservator. I can see that happening. We have many people that I think the public would be, the press would be interested in coming in to see a conservatorship action. Now, as a trial judge in chancery, I have no jury. You understand that. I have to make the decision. Now, uh, if you request to come into my courtroom or to any chancery courtroom, am I then required to appoint a guardian ad litem for the elderly person, so that elderly person has an advocate? Who's going to pay for the guardian ad litem? You know, is the press going to pay for somebody to ad-, advocate for the potential ward's position? Are you in the, in the press willing to do that?
Justice Graves: You want me to answer?
Justice Graves: I'll be happy to answer. If you are telling me you got an elderly person and you are concerned about their rights, I can't imagine you wouldn't be appointing a guardian ad litem anyway.
Judge Alfonso: No I don't. We don't do it in every case. I'm I'm I'm talking about with only, the issue is only access. We don't, we certainly don't appoint guardian ad litems in most conservatorship actions. There is just not the funds to pay for it.
Justice Graves: So who's representing the interest of the person who is about to have someone else appointed their conservator?
Judge Alfonso: Well, I mean I have two doctors, two doctor certificates that say this person needs a conservator. If I am satisfied based upon the doctors' certificates, but that's a matter of a trial on the merits. I'm talking about I have a request from the media in advance. I don't know what the evidence is going to be at the trial. It may be clear-cut.
Rizzo: Let me ask the judge, is there in those circumstances when someone requests uh, coverage, is there anything that you can tell us that would help you allay your concerns and, and let us cover that kind of a circumstance, assuming again that, that we are not talking about vulnerable children and we are not talking about the unusual but, but something that probably a lot of people would think that the public wants to know about?
Judge Alfonso: Yes. And let me just say once again about chancery, and reiterate we are the fact finders. Uh, I am very very uh, concerned about, you know, the ex parte contact from the press. I would immediately, once you give me some sort of notice, whether that's verbal or written, of this intent to cover, I immediately would have a conference with the, the attorneys representing the parties because of this contact from you and because I am the fact finder. So give me as much notice as you possibly can so that I can satisfy myself I am not violating some canon by discussing it with you ex parte from the representation of the parties.
Bell: All right, question -
Justice Carlson: Let me, if I could, just add, uh, to the question that, what can you do. I think cooperation and that has been emphasized by Justice Graves also. Uh, and, but that's a two-way street. Not just cooperation as far as the media. Certainly you need to do so on pooling under the rule, uh, because you know that if you can't agree on pooling, then you can't, you can't go to the judge to resolve it. The judge is busy doing other things. You just, you won't get in there if you don't cooperate with each other, but cooperation certainly with the court, but that's a two-way street. Uh and as pointed out, you do need to establish a good relationship uh, with the court uh, and with the judges and with the judges' staff because you are going to be communicating probably more with the uh, court administrator or clerk of the court uh, as opposed to the judge, so certainly establish a good relationship.
Bell: Terry Smith.
Terry Smith: I just, I guess this question is directed to Judge Graves and Dennis Smith. I know you all and probably some others on the panel traveled around the state. Based on that and from the two different, maybe, viewpoints generally speaking, what is the attitude that you both see among judges in this whole issue, just to give us some feel of what we may be facing as we try to work together in the years to come?
Justice Graves: I think generally the attitude in the legal profession is that the profession resists change. The profession itself is slow to change and judges who sit at the top of the profession probably sit at the top of the pile of those who are most resistant to change. Uh, and so I think the general attitude obviously before the adoption of the rule was that, uh, we resist change, we don't want it, we don't like it, it's worked this - I mean, somebody said "It's worked this way for 200 years. Why do we need it now?" Which to me was about like saying we didn't have computers 200 years ago so why should we use them now. So, that's I think the general attitude before the adoption of the rule.
Dennis Smith: That's my feeling too, Terry, although, granted, there was a significant amount of trepidation on the, on the judges around the state in our, in our travels there, and I did try to convince them that I thought that, that in toto that the rules uh, that we were looking at was probably not going to be a significant variance from what they were seeing on a regular basis because the reality is 90, probably 95 percent of the cases we are going to be interested in are going to be criminal cases. Ninety-five percent of those criminal cases are very likely going to be initial appearance, uh, shots of the defendant at the initial appearance or the arraignment or perhaps at sentencing. We don't have the resources, we don't have the people, the time to go and staff these courthouses uh, with any degree of, of regularity on a lot of the cases. Very few cases can I think of over the past many years have I seen that we would even want to have any interest in having uh, a camera there during the whole process and that uh, there is going to be a situation where we have got to educate our staff exactly how to, how to get this notice out, pull it off the web site of the Supreme Court, fill it out, make sure we've got some dialogue going with the court administrator, the judge, and that, that we have cleared up these problems with any competitive arrangements well before hand.
Angela Williams: Uh, do you know if the judges have talked to the court administrators about having this extra burden on them? When I was in Tennessee, I spoke to the court administrators almost daily about the cases that were going on and things that we may want to follow. So they had to deal with us a lot more than they had to in the past. Are the court administrators prepared for this?
Justice Graves: There has not been as I am aware of, any, any mass effort to educate court administrators in that connection. As with most things, I would imagine that there are some judges who have spoken with the court administrators. Others may not have. Uh, you know, my hope is, is that when we have our fall educational training that is typically for judges, court administrators, court clerks - uh, there is a training in the spring and then another training in the fall - my hope is that at, at least with the fall training on everybody's agenda would be some training in connection with this matter. And we will have had an opportunity to view it for a few months by that time.
Justice Carlson: I think too, you know, it would help - I know it again kind of shifts the burden to you - but it would help also maybe to prior to a situation to go ahead and either talk to the judge or the court administrator and say, "OK, here's this rule and we want to help you make it work, judge or court administrator. Tell us, the media, how can we help you so that it, it will work." And uh, I know that being from Batesville, and Terry, I watch Channel 9 News exclusively to any other to get my news. You do a great job.
Justice Graves: All you other stations heard that.
Justice Carlson: Yeah, you know, we don't have that many in North Mississippi. But uh, we got Greenwood, Greenville, Tupelo, and otherwise you got Memphis and uh, as far as what we can get. I know there are other, others in the state, great stations, but Channel 9 also, the Tupelo station has a lot, I mean, with what's going on in Lee County and Alcorn County and Pontotoc, Itawamba. You have a lot of court cases up there. And so, uh, Terry, I would hope if you haven't done so, maybe to try to sit down and talk with Judge Gardner. I know I saw him I think on TV on night on Channel 9 one weekend and when he was expressing his views on, on cameras in the courtroom. But uh, certainly I would hope uh, Channel 9 would talk to Judge Gardner and the court administrators, and uh, Joyce Loftin, the clerk up there, and, and get it, and help them to make it work, let it work.
Van Slyke: Excuse me, I'm sorry.
Vincent: I just had a question. I know the judge has the final decision. I'd like to ask the judges how much uh, input, I know they get the input from the uh, trial lawyers. I mean, the, who represents the two different parties. How much influence is that going to be? Will we have a chance to, if the judge says no, they say they have a good reason why not, will the media have a chance to uh, talk uh, to the judge before that final decision is made?
Van Slyke: Well, are you speaking - if I might ask, are you asking, talking about the Rule 7 on the objections, if a, if a party objects? I have that same concern so. ( talking from several others at same time) There is a provision that if, that a party, uh, if it objects, uh, to electronic coverage, may file a written motion uh, with the, that must be done 15 days before the hearing. Uh, my concern there is will there then be a hearing in which the press would be allowed to intervene and there would be a balancing of the interests there?
Justice Carlson: That certainly is envisioned by the rule and that's the reason and, and the, the judges saw this as a discrepancy, but it was intentional on a 15-day notice for the parties to file a motion to object versus 48 hours for the media to inform the court that you want to cover it. That was an intentional act on the part of the committee, and the Rules Committee, the initial committee, the Rules Committee and the court, knowing that media - you are deadline-oriented. What is important today or what is going to be import to you on Monday, say, you don't know yet. Anything can happen. So we recognize that you may not know up until 48 hours as to whether or not there is a trial going on locally that you want to cover. On the other hand, and this is what I mentioned to the uh, judges back in April. Dennis, as he mentioned, was there, and Justice Graves to talk to them about this. And that was, "Now come on, judge, be fair." You know, I never, in 19 years as a circuit judge, I never got surprised over media coverage. As soon as a case got into the system and maybe months away from trial, I knew good and well whether or not that case was going to get media attention. There is no surprise so 15 days is certainly more than fair to the parties. They know well more than 15 days whether or not there is any reason why they should object. Uh, is there going to be a violation under the rule? There is a circuit and county court rule on what can't be disclosed like whether or not the defendant uh, in a criminal trial has given a confession, and so forth and so on. And, uh, so, uh, it's, it is designed that way and certainly I think in what Leonard inquires about, I think certainly a hearing is envisioned under the rules for the judge to perform that balancing, uh, and, and let the media be heard on, uh, if there is an objection by a party.
Justice Graves: I guess in terms of my very specific response to that, and I may be, I don't know if I am envisioning anything any different from what Justice Carlson articulated. But the rule says 15 days for parties to file a, a motion to object to it. I don't think that rule requires that the parties notify the media that they've set that motion for a hearing. Uh, and I understand that you think that's problematic, but let me finish, and then I'm going to leave and you can...
(audience laughter drowns out speaker)
(blank spot on tape)And so if the court has determined that the proceedings ought to be closed from the media, and the media didn't even know it, later learns of it, and determines that they have an interest in it, they have a right to raise that with the court and the court has an obligation to consider it.
Van Slyke: If, if I might respond, your honor, I, I do agree - (audience laughter drowns out speaker) that, that, what this tells you as a media representative out here is that you are going to have to be diligent in following the court file, looking at the court file and on any high profile case, as you should already be doing, to see if there are any motions on file, because I'm not going to know it. You just heard him say they have no obligation to tell me or you, but you have every right to go review the court file. You must do that. So that's, that's the first step. Second step, if uh, there is such a motion, then we want to intervene, "we" meaning the press. I, I believe uh, - he didn't say this, but I believe we will have an absolute right to intervene. Uh, nevertheless we certainly should move to intervene and be heard.
Justice Graves: I agree with that interpretation.
Justice Carlson: I think Leonard nailed it. Right. I mean, that's it. That's exactly right.
Dennis Smith: One observation I think that uh, is interesting here. You realize you can't take your electronic uh, cameras like this tripod and this camera here, except in recesses and during, before or after proceedings, but there is a stipulation there. And maybe you can give me some guidance on this, judge. This prohibition should not apply to small hand-held electronic devices. I don't know that we ever got into the specifics of that, but it would seem to me that, you've got a small hand-held camera, you could probably sit there in in in the back presumably, if you are unobtrusive with it, you don't have to leave back and forth, uh, that you could actually use that without having to, to uh, wait, if you want to leave, without having to wait for a recess. Does that make sense?
Justice Graves: That makes sense and I think that's exactly what that rule contemplates. The concern was just disruption and distractions uh, in the courtroom and to the extent that you can, you can avoid all of that with these small hand-held devices, there, there would be no reason to have this prohibition applicable to those kinds of devices.
Justice Carlson: Initially in the Rules Committee I know we were talking about this particular point. And uh, initially, I think it read like "small hand-held tape recorders." And then we said, "Well, wait a minute. That may not cover everything." That's, uh, and so we came up with this wording hopefully to cover it. Something like, that I mean, if you've got it small enough, whether it's video or audio or whatever, where you can move in and out just as easily with that small video as you could with the hand-held recorder, or your cell phone or whatever, then, then fine. It's just those that require setting up with some movement and perhaps distraction that we were trying, we just wanted to make sure it was not constant moving in and out. As a spectator, somebody with a notepad or small hand-held device, you can come and go at will unless the judge has some general rule, not just as to media but general as far as courtroom movement, you can come and go at will.
Ryan Bohling: I've got a question on that. How do you address the pooling issue with that? And does that mean, if I've got a hand-held camera, can we have more than one station in the, in the courtroom?
Justice Carlson: The way I interpret that, and I'm one of nine - now keep in mind, I found out when I got to the court they had said that where as a trial judge, you were used to whatever you said goes, and you are the final arbiter, but as a member of the Supreme Court, uh, if you say anything, you've got to have four others to back you up and so, and there are a lot of five-four votes. So, but as one person I don't think that comes under the pooling requirement. If you can come and go at will, whether it be a small hand-held uh, camcorder or video or audio or whatever it might be, a cell phone, uh, whatever that might be, if you can come and go easily without distraction other than the normal movement of any other spectator in the courtroom, then I don't think that comes under the pooling requirement.
Bohling: Does that require the filling out of a form and that be accepted, the application?
Justice Carlson: I think you ought to go ahead and fill out the form. I think you would be better to fill this out. I'm sure, as Dennis mentioned and held it up, I'm sure at some point you've already probably talked about it and I should give credit to Beverly Kraft. (Carlson holds up a copy of the Camera Coverage Notice form.) She did a great job with devising this form and I think it covers, but, I think I would go ahead and still fill out that form so there wouldn't be any question.
Unidentified speaker: Your honor -
Justice Carlson: Because, see, it talks about medium, it talks about still photography, video tape, so if you've got a small hand-held device, uh, then you are still with, you know, that comes under audio recording only. Spot coverage. Complete coverage. And, but, so, but I don't see this coming under the pooling requirement unless somebody can correct me. And maybe Beverly has some thoughts on that.
Vincent: You know, one thing on the pooling. If we had a case like the Beckwith case, maybe the Sherry case or some other high profile, we're really going to have to work together as journalists because uh, I would imagine aside just being inside the state on the Beckwith case, you would have had the major networks here. You could have had 10, 12 video outlets from across the country.
Justice Carlson: Absolutely.
Vincent: Maybe six or seven here in Mississippi or whatever, so that's what it's going to take, maybe the media may have to in the home town or wherever the trial is going to be held, may have to kind of get, get all of the media together and try to work out something.
Van Slyke: Dave, let me make a comment on that. I, in, in my comments to the court regarding the rule, I had suggested and hoped that there be some format uh, to work that out. Not that it would involve the judiciary, but just that there would be a format. That didn't happen, uh, for whatever reason. I'm sure the reasons were good. But it, short of that uh, it is incumbent upon the media to establish some organization uh, to, to get together and work out how that's going to happen. Uh, there was some suggestion earlier today in a, in a meeting prior to this one that perhaps the AP Broadcasters Association might be a vehicle uh, to establish a committee to do that, so uh, something, but something must happen or otherwise we will have chaos on a high profile case.
Dennis Smith: Leonard, as a matter of fact my chief photographer just Friday had pulled off a web site that, and Dave, you'll find this interesting, along with Bruce. There is a an audio video mult-box that has 12 hookups and so you know once we get to that stage we need ....
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Barkley: We'll do the cost based on ratings.
Justice Carlson: From a judge's standpoint, one suggestion I would have for, for trial judges and certainly would convey to them at an appropriate time, I can recall back to the Ralph Hand case and, uh, he ended up pleading guilty. Uh, if you recall, this was one back in about 1989, uh, that he had killed his wife and set her body on fire out in a field outside, in rural Tallahatchie County, over on the west side of the county, and it got a lot, it got a lot of national attention. We were getting calls from ABC out of New York and even they came down and visited. Uh, uh, Leonard had occasion to show up once or twice, and I think maybe Beverly. And uh, uh, so, and Art Harris, I think, uh, CNN out of Atlanta. And so we had a lot of folks and I was getting to the point as we approached the trial date of talking to my, and had already talked to him, a local newspaper editor there in Batesville and I was going to ask him to be more or less my media representative and line up - of course back then we were not dealing with cameras in the courtroom but we were dealing with national media coverage - and to deal with media and set up a mechanism for, uh, to get them in the courtroom, to make sure they were able to cover, and so I will probably suggest to the trial judges that in the really really, the Beckwith-type situations and you've got national coverage, to maybe have a media representative who you, who the judge knows in the hometown, or wherever, to more or less head things up for the judge and take that burden off the judge and court administration.
Bell: All right, uh, let's, one quick question and we need to wrap up. Ralph?
Ralph Braseth: I was wondering if we could start with Leonard Van Slyke and go down the row. Do you really think this helps the citizenry of Mississippi (inaudible)?
Van Slyke: Oh absolutely. That's why I spent 10 years or more working toward it. I think it is a great informational tool. We, if you recall, some of you were around during the Beckwith case. We filed suit at that time, uh, and as Justice Graves noted, the, the profession and the judiciary is slow to change, and at that time Justice Graves as the trial judge ruled in favor, the Supreme Court ruled against, and I might add, that Chief Justice Pittman, one of those that voted against it, and he has now come to the view that, and led the charge to say that it is so important that the public understand the judiciary, and understand the judicial system. The judicial system has been under a lot of fire but a lot of it just results from misunderstanding, and I believe this will be a big step. It won't solve everything but it will be a big step in helping the public to understand what goes on in the courtroom and that it is a real serious effort to get at justice.
Judge Alfonso: Although I have stated how I feel today, I fully intend to follow the law. Uh, I, um, frequently speak to children's groups, and one of the first things they invariably ask me is, "Are you like Judge Judy?" and I always say, "I hope not." (audience laughter) I know that there does need to be change. Uh, our courts are not reflective of what you see on TV and what children see on TV. I would hope that we can all get together in December of 2004 after having this experience and really assess if this rule has served its stated purpose of educating the public.
Luckett: No doubt it's very helpful uh, when you think about the high profile trials we've seen in the state. Luke Woodham, uh, Sam Bowers, uh, Beckwith, some of the Jackson cases, extortion of city councilmen - uh, just a number of cases. And if you had a camera in there you could have been inside the case, inside the courtroom with that and not rely solely on what we came back out as reporters to tell you about. Uh, it would help, not that we don't tell you the truth, (laughs) but it helps us to do our job better, and it would help you to go inside that courtroom.
Dennis Smith: Ralph, a survey nationwide in April indicated 12 percent of the people in the country get their news from newspapers, 44 percent from television news. I submit, I submit that's probably more substantially in the weight of television in Mississippi based on our, our demographics and all. One of the most powerful things that I can recall that I think that is very effective that I've seen on televison is in the pre-sentencing phase of a, of the defendant, where the victim's family members come up there and address that person, uh, personally before the court. It's very powerful television. And it seems to give me the impression and I daresay the viewers, that the system is working. Now these people are able to cleanse themselves at some point and get, get their pent-up emotions out. That to me would be a very effective method of communicating to our viewers that the process does in fact work. And I look forward to that.
Justice Carlson: I had not thought about what Dennis just said, but I can see also it could be maybe a, a, a healing process for, for those who have had similar experiences as they, as they see victims on the stand testifying and maybe the, some of the viewers have gone through that and, or are going through it, maybe have not gotten to the point of going to trial and victims and victims' families and they are able to experience that, but overall just for the general public I think certainly it will be educational.
Vincent: With HDTV which is coming about of course uh, this year and the years to come, uh, television stations will have more than uh, one channel to program. And what the future may bring, we don't know yet, but you never know, if you had a Beckwith trial, you had a Sherry trial, the sation may decide to on that extra channel be able to broadcast the entire trial. I, I, I see a day in Mississippi when, when that will occur because now broadcasters have, with HDTV, have that extra channels to do stuff with, and so I think if we are smart we'll be able to take advantage of that.
Bell: All right, finally, some of you have alluded to it, uh, in your comments, uh, but I have been asked to ask one of our judge and one of our journalist panelists the following question: Do you believe that improving the relationship between the judges and journalists will also benefit Mississippians? Just that uh, that new relationship we've already built with the formation of this committee and now with this new rule taking effect, uh, Judge Carlson, you want to take that from the judicial perspective, just this new relationship that we are building, how is that going to uh, to improve things for Mississippians in general?
Justice Carlson: Well, obviously you know a very positive uh, situation. Again, where we've had, the, I mean, it's just a built-in distrust that we've had through the years, judges toward the media and media toward the courts. Judges playing games with the media and, and the media being denied access and, and so there has not been an effort in, under the old Code of Judicial Conduct, uh, when cameras were excluded from the courtroom, uh, there was no reason for a judge to cooperate. As a trial judge, I've said many times to somebody, Channel 5 out of Memphis or somebody. "Well, we want to cover, come down to DeSoto County and cover that murder trial and bring cameras in." "Oh, I've got the Code of Judicial Conduct that says you can't do it." That's all, and that's all I had to say. Uh, but it, it would, by its very nature, will, will build I think a working relationship uh, with media and the courts. I see it as very positive for all Mississippians. I see it, you know, I think it is a way also for us to get a positive image nationally for, for people to be able to see - maybe a little slow, but see, "Look what they are doing in Mississippi. Uh, they are opening up their courtrooms." Uh, and courts and media are working together for a better relationship and in turn certainly uh, better educating the public of what is going on.
Bell: Dennis, do you want to take that for the journalists?
Dennis Smith: I can't think of a - just take the words "journalists" and "judges," and can you find the two other professions that more clearly define a single word that probably determines what their mission is, and that's fairness? Stop and think about it. That's the one thing judges really really uh, look at being and, and in talking to the judges around the state at judicial conferences and prosecutors' conferences, it's very very important that the, that the judges convey that to the, to the folks. And I think the same holds true, clearly, those of us in our profession, and I think that again my experience is the dialogue that's got to take place, the intimidation that heretofore may have prevailed with a lot of our staff members by virtue of them not understanding the judicial system has got to end and we've got to maintain some dialogue and not be afraid to make the roads and take those steps and let the judges know we want to be fair. We are here for the benefit of our, our viewers and our public just as they are and I think it will work fine.
Bell: All right, we had planned to get done at 11:30 and we are 30 seconds early. How about that? I want to thank our panelists here, Dave Vincent, Judge Carlson, (audience applause) Dennis Smith and of course Justice Graves had to leave early, Beverly, Judge Alfonso and Leonard of course. I also want to thank Dick Rizzo and Beverly Pettigrew Kraft for putting this whole thing together. They did all the leg work to uh, get all these people here and to get it all set up and they deserve the thanks too. Thanks, Dick, appreciate that. Also want to thank you for joining us. And hopefully we are going to be in good shape for this new rule. Thanks a lot.