Press And Courts Working Together
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June 23, 2000
Press and courts working together benefits all
by William L. Downing
Special to The Seattle TimesLet's face it, every now and then a judge needs to have a chunk taken outa his butt!" Or so held the judge, Hizzoner Mills Lane, veteran prosecutor and real-life judge whose jurisdiction now is daytime TV. Respected jurist Hiller Zobel of Boston concurred by separate opinion.
Not to be outdone longtime Associated Press correspondent Linda Deutsch and ABC newsman Tim O'Brien dispatched their views bemoaning the laziness and pandering to sensationalism that too often mar the media's reporting of court proceedings.
With that off their chests, these four and about seventy-five other leading judges and journalists sat down together in Reno, Nevada to look constructively toward a common future. The occasion was the inaugural conference of the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for the Courts and Media.
It wasn't chance that brought us all to Reno. The University of Nevada, Reno is the home of the National Judicial College and also the Reynolds School of Journalism which are collaborating on this bold new project.
Former Judge Kenneth Starr, in his opening address, noted a public cynicism he felt was being fueled by the media. With this phenomenon eroding public trust and confidence in the courts, he urged judges and reporters to work to offset it.
After a limited amount of beating up on each other and occasionally on themselves, the two camps emerged with some shared conclusions. Having a public that is uninformed or with senses dulled disserves both the interests of the courts and of the media. Both the judiciary and the press, individually, could be doing a better job of educating the public.
Media representatives also acknowledged that the press can do a better job of educating the public and at the same time helping the courts by insisting that the journalistic community maintain high standards for responsible reporting, A poorly researched, sensationalized story by one station about one judge can damage the credibility of all courts and all news organs. "Get it first but get it right" remains a journalistic credo that has benefits for all.
With substantial justification, reporters feel that too often their efforts at informing the public are frustrated by judicial impediments needlessly placed in the way of their ability to report on what is going on in court. Exhibits may be sealed, files made unavailable for review, cameras barred, gag orders issued and judges may refuse to comment, all for no good reason.
Deprived of the best information available, the public's level of confidence in their court system will erode.
Everyone then headed home to pass the commitment to a new cooperation along to their colleagues. There is much work to be done within the ranks of both the judiciary and the press.
William L. Downing has been a King County Superior Court Judge since 1989 and currently serves as the Chair of the Washington State Bench-Bar-Press Liaison Committee.
Copyright © 2000 The Seattle Times Company
Reproduced with permission.
Home | News | Courts | Opinions | Rules | Forms | Self-Help | FAQ | Library | Site Map | Search | ContactI draw your attention to a couple of paragraphs from the above union of the judges and the media, and that is, "Former Judge Kenneth Starr, in his opening address, noted a public cynicism he felt was being fueled by the media. With this phenomenon eroding public trust and confidence in the courts, he urged judges and reporters to work to offset it." and "Deprived of the best information available, the public's level of confidence in their court system will erode."It becomes obvious that the efforts of the likes of JAIL are having success in educating the public on our judicial system. The ironic thing, which this author has known for some time, is that the more people know about their judicial system, the more shocked and amazed they become. I am convinced that there is no way our current judicial system can become open and frank with the public, for anything they do opens closets containing skeletins they need to keep sealed. In otherwords, judges want to be open to avoid criticism, but not too open, lest they suffer criticism. These are signs that we, the People, are winning. Corruption just cannot operate in open light of day. -Ronald Branson**********************************************
The germ of destruction of our nation is in the power
of the judiciary... -- Thomas Jefferson (1821)The Judiciary of the United States is the subtle corps of sappers and miners constantly working under ground to undermine the foundations of our confederated fabric.J.A.I.L. (Judicial Accountability Initiative Law)
-- Thomas Jefferson (1820)
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