The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors today is scheduled to consider asking court officials to halt broadcasts of the O.J. Simpson trial unless the media agree to reimburse the county for spiraling costs associated with the case.
"Various television networks and stations have profited greatly from the increased advertising revenue directly attributable to the massive coverage," said Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who authored the motion. "It's turned into a media circus, and the taxpayers are left having to clean up after the jackals."
Antonovich said that if the board approves the motion, an immediate request will be made to Presiding Superior Court Judge Gary Klausner and trial Judge Lance A. Ito to make reimbursements a condition of future broadcasts.
Antonovich called for the action after an opinion released Monday by the county counsel's office said that the trial judge has broad discretion to set conditions on the televising of court proceedings.
"It is our opinion that the discretion granted a trial judge . . . allows the judge to condition broadcasting of trial proceedings upon payment of facility modification, jury sequestration, security or other costs caused or increased by the broadcasting," the opinion said.
The Radio and Television News Assn. responded that it is "adamantly opposed" to any effort to impose charges on the media.
"The association estimates it has spent $1.25 million to provide pool feeds of the trial to its members and maintains that it is already paying ample monthly costs to the county for parking and security.
"We believe charging for trial coverage is a clear violation of the news media's right to report on public trials," said Sylvia Teague, president of the association.
For weeks, the board has been searching for ways to shelter taxpayers from assuming some of the costs of such trials, including selling rights to live video feeds or sharing in the profits from the sale of tapes.
On Friday, state Sen. Richard Mountjoy (R-Arcadia) introduced a bill calling for the state to reimburse the county for Simpson trial costs.
The Simpson case has so far cost the county nearly $2.5 million, including $197,814 to house and feed the jury. Moreover, Sheriff Sherman Block has advised the board that his department alone will need to spend nearly $1.6 million more over the next five months for trial security.
The escalating costs of the case come as the cash-strapped county is poised to undergo possible service cutbacks and layoffs.