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Judge in Kelly Thomas trial orders media to remove their cameras

The judge in the Kelly Thomas trial ordered members of the media to remove their cameras in the middle of opening statements after crews refused to provide their live feed to the Orange County district attorney’s office.

The pool crew refused to hand over the feed Monday to prosecutors because providing it to one of the parties in the case would violate journalism ethics, said Patti Paniccia, co-counsel for the Radio & Television News Assn. of Southern California.

The organization had arranged for KCBS-TV (Channel 2)/KCAL-TV (Channel 9) to be pool for video and audio. The Orange County Register took the pool photographs. Pool photos and videos are provided to all media who requested to film or photograph the trial.

Two former Fullerton police officers are on trial in the 2011 death of Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man. After the officers beat him, Thomas was in a coma, and he died five days later.

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Judge William Froeberg’s decision Monday came after the cameras had collected footage of Orange County Dist. Atty. Tony Rackauckas, who is prosecuting the case, and John Barnett, one of the defense attorneys.

Cameras were removed from the courtroom before defense attorney Michael Schwartz made his opening statements. Schwartz is representing one of the officers in the case.

The news association argued that the district attorney’s office shouldn’t have access to the pool video because it is not a media organization as defined by the law, Paniccia said. The footage should not be shared with any government agency, she said, and is protected as unedited news gathering by a journalist under the California Constitution.

“It’s the same way that a print reporter wouldn’t want to hand over their notes,” Paniccia said. “For a broadcast reporter, the video is the equivalent of a print reporter’s notes.”

Any part of a video shot will be considered confidential if it hasn’t been broadcast, and it requires a subpoena to be handed over, she said.

Susan Kang Schroeder, the district attorney’s chief of staff, said the media members were “petulant and petty” in complaining about the pool setup in the middle of opening statements.

“This is not the media’s property,” Schroeder said. “This is the public’s property what happens in court.”

Prosecutors had intended to post the entirety of Monday’s opening statements online, as well as use it in training, she said.

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“This is an important case,” Schroeder said. “We want to show the public what happened in the court. It’s important to know why we charged one police officer with murder and another with manslaughter.”

The O.C. district attorney’s office had applied to be in the pool for the case’s preliminary hearing and other cases in the past, Schroeder said.

“To [complain] mid-trial is unacceptable,” she said.

Gwen Vieau, spokeswoman for the Superior Court of Orange County, said the judge had previously ruled that the media could shoot and record opening statements, closing arguments and the verdict.

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adolfo.flores@latimes.com

Twitter: @AdolfoFlores3


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