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Camera Will Stay in O.J. Trial Courtroom

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Camera Will Stay in O.J. Trial Courtroom

Article excerpt

The media breathed a collective sigh of relief when judge Lance Ito ruled Nov. 7 that a pool camera could stay in the Los Angeles courtroom where O.J. Simpson is being tried on a double murder charge.

However, the question of whether the Court TV camera can remain during preliminary proceedings involving the admission of prosecution DNA evidence remained in doubt.

The courts main ruling was contingent upon the installation of an unobtrusive, remote-controlled camera that presumably would be less intimidating to witnesses. The camera operator would be stationed outside the courtroom.

Ito's decision came after several lawyers representing the media and the American Civil Liberties Union pleaded for retention in the interests of a public trial.

Both the prosecution and the defense supported those arguments, although the defense posed some objections.

Defense attorneys Robert Shapiro and Johnnie Cochran said they would oppose camera recording of preliminary motions on DNA and possibly other matters. The trial itself is expected to get under way in January.

Stacked behind Ito in the courtroom were 21 boxes, which, the judge said, contained more than 12,000 letters regarding the trial, the "overwhelming number" of which asked that he pull the plug on the courtroom TV camera.

The letters were inspired by syndicated columnist Mike Royko, who suggested that his readers write to Ito if they objected to televised coverage of the trial.

Last September 30, Ito warned he was considering removing the cameras after a Los Angeles television station broadcast an allegedly erroneous story concerning DNA evidence, and a photographer took photos of jurors in the court building.

Attorney Kelli Sager, who argued on behalf of a variety of media organizations, including the Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, Gannett Co., CBS, NBC, City News Service, Copley Press, Society of Professional Journalists, and the American Society of Newspaper Editors, said her clients were "vitally interested in continuing electronic coverage of these proceedings."

Noting that, under both state and federal law, Ito can permit camera coverage law unless it would jeopardize a defendant's right to a fair trial, Sager contended that "there is no realistic chance" that this would happen in the Simpson trial. …

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