Opinion
Join The Times' book club. This month's selection: "Cadillac Desert"
Opinion Editorial
Editorial

Another casualty of the O.J. trial: cameras in courtrooms

Judges and lawyers should get over their fear that cameras will turn courtrooms into carnivals
In the 20 years since the O.J. Simpson trial, we've seen a makeover of the LAPD

Whether or not they believed O.J. Simpson guilty of the murders of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, Angelenos were transfixed by the trial that followed the killings — one of the most extraordinary public spectacles of the last half-century. Extravagantly lengthy (nearly nine months) and dramatic (the gloves didn't fit!) and viewable everywhere every day on TV, it took place in a city still wary and wounded two years after the LAPD acquittals in the Rodney King trial and the subsequent riots. After Simpson was found not guilty, a Times poll revealed how racially polarized L.A. County residents were in their reactions. Among black residents polled, 77% agreed with the verdict. Among white residents, 65% disagreed with the jury's decision.

Twenty years later, much has changed. The Los Angeles Police Department depicted during the trial — a department that employed a high-profile detective caught on tape saying the "N-word" word repeatedly and investigators and criminalists who bungled the handling of forensic evidence — has been transformed over the years into a far more diverse, more trusted force. The department has instituted stricter procedures for crime scene investigation and the labeling and transporting of evidence.

But one lamentable legacy of the trial was the chilling effect it had on cameras — still and video — in courtrooms across the country. Even as the Simpson case was getting started — but already stoking controversy because of its televised proceedings — the Judicial Conference of the United States, which sets policy for the federal judiciary, voted against expanding what had been considered a successful three-year pilot program putting cameras into select federal courtrooms. Non-federal judges who still had the option of allowing cameras at trials often chose not to do so after the Simpson trial; many fretted among themselves that "we don't want another O.J." Only in the last few years has a new pilot program to allow some video cameras in some federal proceedings gotten underway. In California, Judge Alex Kozinski, chief of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, has been a progressive voice on this issue and allows media cameras to cover arguments in appeals courts.

The occasionally over-the-top display witnessed by the nation during the Simpson trial was not caused by the cameras; it was only revealed by them. In general, flamboyant attorneys (and judges) will treat the courtroom as their stage, whether a camera is on or not. Judges and lawyers should get over their fear that cameras will turn courtrooms into carnivals. Cameras chronicle the judicial process, for better and worse, and should be welcomed, not banished.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Don't hide L.A. County's legal bills

    Don't hide L.A. County's legal bills

    Los Angeles County pays a lot of money to private law firms to defend against lawsuits brought by people who assert they were beaten, mistreated or abused while in custody, especially in the county's notorious jails. In order to adequately assess how well the county's sheriff and Board of Supervisors...

  • A hazy ruling on abusive speech from the Supreme Court

    A hazy ruling on abusive speech from the Supreme Court

    In overturning the conviction of a man who posted violent "rap lyrics" about his estranged wife and others on Facebook, the Supreme Court on Monday rightly made it harder to criminalize hateful speech. But the decision stopped short of requiring that prosecutors prove that a defendant intended...

  • The false populism of George Pataki

    The false populism of George Pataki

    I keep thinking we're done with George Pataki — but like an order of bad clams, he keeps coming back up on me.

  • Legalize lane-splitting, with some caveats

    Legalize lane-splitting, with some caveats

    On the face of it, it seems absolutely insane to allow motorcycles to ignore the lanes on the road and to whiz past cars by going between them. What if the biker misjudges and hits a car because he's too close on one side or another? What if a car moves a little to the left or right — still staying...

  • Will Gawker go union?

    Will Gawker go union?

    As union membership declines, even modest unionization efforts take on symbolic importance. Each case seems like a sign of things to come. Success or failure at the individual level seems to portend success or failure for the broader movement.

  • California agriculture: It's worth the water

    California agriculture: It's worth the water

    Pundits here in drought-stricken California have become fond of proclaiming that farms consume 80% of the state's water and generate only about 2% of its gross domestic product. "Why devote so much of our water to an industry that contributes so little fuel to our economic engine?" they ask.

Comments
Loading