Have cameras in the courtroom
undermined the U.S. justice system?
January 20, 1998
in this forum:
Would only allowing trials to be broadcast after the verdict solve the problems? Do lawyers and judges dress and act differently when they're infront of a camera? How do legal shows like "The People's Court" affect America's view of its justice system? Why aren't there cameras in the Supreme Court? Additional comments.
November 10, 1997
The "Nanny," Louise Woodward is convicted and then set free.
June 3, 1997
Comparing the OJ Simpson case with the trial of Timothy McVeigh .
February 5, 1997
The civil trial verdict goes against OJ Simpson.
September 3, 1997:
A look at criminal law in France.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of law.
Mike McConnel of Boston, MA asks:
What are the fringe benefits of cameras in the courts? Can they help a judge run for public office? Have they made millionaires out of lawyers?
Court TV has a lot of power over what cases we get to peek into. How do the editors decide what to cover? How does Court TV make money?
Tim Sullivan, of Court TV responds:I'm not an expert in this area, but it appears to me the fringe benefits are few. Certainly televised trials have made some lawyers into national celbrities -- Leslie Abramson and Johnnie Cochran, for example. But I don't think they've made millionaires out of many.
I don't know of any judges getting rich or famous as a result of cameras in court.
Keep in mind that Court TV alone has televised about 400 trials in six years. Most people have heard of no more than a handful of those cases. The trials that have a huge impact -- OJ and The Nanny Trial, for example -- are not only rare, but they would have been tremendous news events even if the camera had not been in the courtroom.
As for how Court TV decides which cases to cover, it's a matter of news judgment more than anything else. We look for trials that have made, or will make, news. We also look for trials that present issues we think are important and will be of interest to our viewers. About one-third of the trials we cover are civil suits; the rest are criminal.
Court TV basically has two sources of income, the same sources newspapers have, i.e., advertising and subscribers. We sell advertising on the network, and we get paid by cable distribution companies based on the number of households they have as subscribers. As has been reported in the business press, Court TV does not yet make a profit.
Law Professor Steven Lubet responds:
I don't think any judge has ever benefitted personally from presiding over a televised trial. It might happen someday.
The only lawyers to get rich from televised trials have probably been the paid commentators, who wouldn't get paid if they didn't have high profile trials to cover.
Sure, the trial lawyers enhance their reputations, but that would happen with or without the cameras. For example, Roy Black won the William Kennedy Smith trial. Mr. Black is a great cross-examiner with an extensive reputation. He was no doubt turning clients away before that trial, so the additional publicity probably didn't mean much to him financially. There's only so much business that a trial lawyer can handle, so a broader reputation doesn't necessarily turn into dollars.
It might surprise you to learn that there was a judge in New Jersey who appeared on television over 50 times as a commentator on the Simpson trial (he wasn't paid, though). The New Jersey Supreme Court ordered him to stop, however, on the ground that it violated the state's Code of Judicial Conduct.
This has caused some controversy. Do judges have the same First Amendment rights as everyone else, or is the "no comment" rule a reasonable restriction that contributes to public confidence in the judiciary?