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Supreme Court panel hears from the people

By Staff
COURTROOM HEARING Meridian lawyer Dan Self speaks Friday during a meeting of the state Supreme Court's Media and the Courts Study Committee at the Lauderdale County Courthouse. WTOK-TV's Wade Phillips, left, and WMDN-TV's Todd Bender were allowed to film in the courtroom. Wesley House Director Nell Grissom, middle front, and Assistant District Attorney Lisa Howell also spoke during the hearing. PHOTO BY CARISA MCCAIN / THE MERIDIAN STAR
By William F. West / community editor
Oct. 12, 2002
Meridian attorney Dan Self told a state Supreme Court committee on Friday that he opposes cameras in the courtroom because witnesses could face potential stage fright.
Another Meridian attorney, Bill Ready Jr., said he believes it's time for a set of rules allowing more open coverage provided the trial judge be allowed to have the final say on a case-by-case basis.
Ready and Self were among 15 attorneys, reporters, photographers and other residents who attended a meeting of the state Supreme Court's Media and the Courts Study Committee.
The committee is led by state Supreme Court Justice James Graves Jr. and is comprised of both judges and journalists. The panel is studying the relationship between the courts and the media.
The panel will make recommendations to Chief Justice Ed Pittman.
The committee has held similar forums throughout the state. The Meridian forum was the last one on its schedule and a report is expected to be prepared for Pittman at an unspecified date.
For years, Mississippi was one of three states that had no televised court proceedings of any kind.
That changed when the state Supreme Court installed cameras in its courtroom to televise arguments live over the Internet. The state Appeals Court followed suit.
Pittman wants to know what the public thinks about live coverage of trial courts.
Lauderdale County Circuit Court Judge Larry Roberts told the committee about the need to balance the public's right to know with extensive publicity affecting a person's constitutional right to a fair trial.
Courtroom concerns
Lisa Howell, an assistant district attorney who spoke to the committee, said she would be concerned about cameras in the courtroom for the safety of confidential informants.
In addition, she said, she is concerned about the risk of revealing the methods police use to catch drug dealers.
Nell Grissom, director of Wesley House, told the committee she strongly opposes cameras in the courtroom. She said it is difficult to get victims to press charges and testify in court, particularly in sexual assault cases.
Todd Bender, a reporter for WMDN-TV, said he wants to show a witness giving testimony from the stand instead of transcribing what was said and then having to do stand-up shots outside the courthouse.
Bender also told the committee he previously worked in Arizona, which allows cameras in its courtrooms.
Self said cameras in the courtroom could be embarrassing.
Cameras in the courtroom:
Here is sampling of what some people told a committee Friday studying the issue of cameras in the courtroom.
Larry Roberts
Circuit Judge
Lisa Howell
Assistant District Attorney
Todd Bender