The MWDN ran a superb op ed by Kathleen Parker in which she discussed the way that media in the courtroom distorts trials. She refers particularly to the Zimmerman case. She doesn’t address the point that notwithstanding the wall to wall coverage nearly 35% of all Americans think Zimmerman is Jewish, but her point is well taken.
Lawyers wrestle with this issue all of the time. On one hand, I am very upset by the new trend in Massachusetts of stashing courthouses in remote places. From my experience, court houses should be in the center of town, with open doors. I’ve long noticed that judges behave differently once they understand that no one is watching. Frankly, I’d like to see all jury trials held outside under an elm tree. There is something to be said for community participation in the process of justice. On the other hand, the circus environment engendered by constant exposure does warp the process.
In my one experience with this phenomena, I got to hear court commentators expounding on my apparent thinking and strategy, and they weren’t even close to the truth. However, it was evident that opposing counsel and even the judge had been influenced by that. As a result, when it was clear that I wasn’t following the suggested route, and I was doing something different, I was accused of changing tack to avoid the counter measures adopted by the opposition. The whole thing was surreal to put it mildly.
But I see another phenomena as well – this weird notion that victims and families of victims should have priority seating at trials, as if the purpose of a criminal trial is to appease the victims, not meet the requirements of civic justice. As weird as it may seem, the victim is irrelevant in the liability phase of a trial, but jurors get exactly the opposite message when they see a room packed full of amputees with crutches, as will happen in the Boston Marathon Circus that is about to roll in to town. Fair trail? Don’t count on it. At bar meetings, we constantly weigh the public right of access with the concern about distortion of process. Zimmerman has become as bad as OJ, and the Boston Marathon case already has enough appellate issues to keep this case in court until the defendant turns 100. As a people, Americans are not good at finding balance. That’s ok, until people’s liberty is the stake to be lost.