Indiana tries out cameras in courtrooms

So far, the experiment has produced better prepared lawyers and little disruption. Many defendants are leery but some see a chance to craft their public image.
Written by Richard Koman, Contributor
One of the hallmarks of the modern age of journalism has been the courtroom illustrator. He may soon be tossed in the dustbin of history as state courts are increasingly allowing cameras into court. While the Supreme Court has cast serious doubt as to whether it will ever allow cameras in federal courts, states like Indiana are experimenting with the idea, the Indianapolis Star reports.

A few of the benefits: lawyers are on better behavior and are better prepared; there has been little showboating; and cameras are not disrupting procedures. On the other hand, one attorney complained it was hard to enter court because of the media and the cameras do make a clicking sound. One fix is to use a digital camera with a muffler attachment. Under the rules set up for the experiment, the trial court and parties must agree; only one video camera, one still camera and three audio recorders are allowed; and there's no photography of minors, undercover agents and police informants. The main issue is whether defendants will agree. Certainly, since OJ, managing the defendant's public image has become a core job of the defense. While some Indiana murder defendants have declined, one who OK'd the cameras was John R. Dean, 40, who pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter of a 74-year-old man. That's because he wanted to demonstrate to the community his remorse, said his attorney, Kurt Schnepper.

Schnepper said he thinks cameras can help play a watchdog role. Thanks to the cameras, people can "see what their prosecutor is doing on a day-to-day basis and how their judge performs in court," he said.

While lawyers are said to be behaving better, judges who have appeared on camera may be motivated to clean up their acts too.

After one of his two televised hearings, Judge Robert R. Altice Jr. watched the proceedings on television and was chagrined to see a shot of himself chewing his Nicorette gum. "That wasn't very nice to see," the ex-smoker said. A citizen even took him to task.

"(She) told me that she watches Judge Judy every day and that Judge Judy doesn't permit gum chewing in her courtroom and I shouldn't do that, either."

The nation can be grateful, though, that Judge Dennis Thompson's cases were not televised.

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