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BLOG: Our #OpenNYCourts push
Sean Carroll, 13WHAM News Reporter --- Last year we began a community discussion about courtroom access and engaged the public using Twitter #OpenNYCourts. Admittedly, many of the tweets with that hashtag are journalists sharing their routine encounters with an open or closed court system but our followers have weighed in at times too.
Transparency and accountability issues are areas where reporters like myself find it hard to be neutral and completely objective because they are fundamental to the service we provide our community. When doors are closed in our faces you expect good journalists to find a way inside despite that. In New York State the doors of to far too many courtrooms remain closed. Often we encounter courtrooms that are closed to modern forms of communication (email, texts, phones), closed to modern technology (my notebook is now my iPad), and very often closed to cameras.
I have never encountered a case that presents a more compelling argument for all levels of public access to court than the pending LDC case. It is why 13WHAM News has petitioned Judge Robert Noonan to grant our application for video camera access to proceedings. (Read: A Push to Open Court in LDC Case)
(Lost on nobody should be the irony that one conclusion drawn from the audits by NYS Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, a conclusion that has gone virtually unchallenged by everyone involved, was the assertion that the practice of contracting with LDCs inherently restricts transparency and in turn public accountability or scrutinY. Those audits resulted in the investigation that led to the charges in this case.)
Why the Attorney Generals Office opposed 13WHAMs application for video access to these proceedings is anyones guess. The prosecutor refused to state a reason in court, refused to answer questions after court, and the press office officially declined comment when we asked for an explanation.
As for defense counsel, their opposition to our application was to be expected but it was also disingenuous considering their public cries of outrage over the often broadcast perp walk video that was partially orchestrated by the AGs Press Office thanks to a press alert to local media a day in advance of the indictments unsealing.
What defense counsel doesnt want to explicitly say is that their opposition to our request for video cameras in court is all about strategy. That is currently the biggest legal stick they can swing. They can argue for dismissal of charges (as one defendant is doing) based on the publicity surrounding that perp walk. Eventually we can expect to hear change of venue arguments because of that perp walk video and an insistence that the jury pool is tainted because their clients are so often seen in handcuffs on the local news.
So its strategy for the defense. And if its strategy for the AGs Office, perhaps I just dont yet understand that that strategy is.
NYS Supreme Court Justice Robert Noonan is very respected in his field, his candor from the bench is enjoyable and informative, and I have been generally impressed over the many times Ive sat in his courtroom in the past few years.
That being said, I am not optimistic that he will rule in our favor here. Especially since both lawyers opposed our application. Moreover, Justice Noonan quizzed me from the bench on Friday and asked about how often we would have our video cameras in court for proceedings. His inquiry even suggested that he held a certain sentiment about fifteen second soundbites that air on television.
Instead of speculating about what that sentiment is Ill simply state that the technology and tools deployed by local journalists to disseminate vast amounts of information continues to grow and expand. This allows us to help you hold your government accountable; be it for a fifteen second soundbite, an ill-advised tweet, or how a lawyer or judge represents themselves in your courtroom over many long court appearances.
Here is hoping that Justice Noonan grants the public all the access they choose to absorb for this criminal proceeding. No Appellate Court will hold that against him and if they dowell, well hold those courts accountable too.
Stayed tuned this week as 13WHAM News joins our competitors in local media in a different effort to #OpenNYCourts