All Hail The Mighty Five Plus The Come A Long Eight
Well, it’s finally done. The guardians of our liberties, the Judges of the Superior Court, have melted before the non-existent flames of public opinion and have voted to allow cameras in the courtroom. One hundred and thirty five judges, in a rush to get to early tee off’s and other significant social obligations, submitted written ballots in favor of a “pilot program” inviting still and television cameras into criminal and civil proceedings. Describing this as a “pilot program” is a classic “the check is in the mail” representation.
I am told that the vote was by written ballot, but the ballots were signed by each judge. In almost cartoon irony, the vote was “covered” by the electronic media. Well covered may be a bit of an overstatement. Apparently Channel 8-er, excuse me, News Channel 8-showed up late, intruded on the proceedings by sticking its cameras and microphones wherever they wanted, stayed for a brief while, got bored and left. Then in the ultimate proof-is-in-the-pudding demonstration of why this is just wrong, it reported the whole event for 47 seconds on the early newscast.
A sad day for the bench, because I am certain that in reality few judges really believe the benefit of perceived “openness” outweighs the negative affect on the administration of justice. But there was a bright spot. Five stalwarts voted against and eight abstained. Their names have not been made public to date, but if you see a change in the already-published September assignments, or the opening of a community court in Bozrah or a housing court in North Canaan, it would not be a surprise if the judicial officer assigned was among those who dissented.
The belief that there is a loud public outcry calling for this change is as false as believing that the cameras’ presence will not affect the proceedings. And so, Your Honor, when you are called upon to set a bond on a misdemeanor charge of negligent homicide with the decedent’s relatives present, tell me you won’t set a higher bond when the cameras are running. Tell me you won’t be aware of the camera when you’re asked to rule on other crimes evidence. Tell me about the witnesses who will be oblivious to the notoriety they’ll receive, either playing up to the camera or being scared away. Tell me how that won’t affect the proceedings. When the lawyers spend more time selecting the right tie than preparing a cross examination, Connecticut, we’ve got a problem. When the 12 second sound bite is all that’s broadcast from a six-hour court day, the public isn’t served, it’s mislead.
But the pilot program is in. Sail on O Ship of Justice!