No cameras in court? No surprise

There was a fair amount of judicial congratulations when the Minnesota Supreme Court made permanent a pilot program to test out cameras in the courtroom last year.

It did so over the objection of lawmakers who tried to pass a bill last session to prevent us from seeing what goes on in Minnesota’s courtrooms.

“I think the public benefits from being able to see justice in action,” Supreme Court Justice David Lillehaug said at the time, pointing to the benefit of seeing the powerful statements of victims of the Gymanstics USA doctor. “You have to be careful to protect victims if they don’t want their statements to be televised, and we do that in Minnesota. But the idea that the courts can benefit from transparency is a very powerful idea.”

The Supreme Court, like many states, put a provision in its rules that guarantees we often won’t see coverage. [For criminal trials] It gave attorneys for both sides the right to object. If one side objects, the cameras are banned. End of story.

That’s what happened Monday when both sides in the upcoming trial of former Minneapolis cop Mohamed Noor objected. He’s charged with killing a woman who called 911. They don’t have to explain why and the media companies who asked for permission don’t get to try to change their mind.

This is pretty much what happens when courts take their first awkward steps toward the 21st century. The cases that people tend to care about the most don’t get cameras (or microphones).

Sometimes, however, we get to see the flaws in the system exposed, as we did late last year when we were allowed to see the pain left behind by a driver’s negligence and a court system that wouldn’t provide what a family thought was appropriate justice.

All one needs to do is browse the public safety page of either daily newspaper to see the endless reports of shootings, and accidents, and people getting away with it or people’s ruined lives because they didn’t. They’re just names. The stories are all the same. We turn the page and move on.

It’s harder to do that when you can see the pain. People’s lives — and their loss — mean more to us.

But, Noor’s trial, like any trial, isn’t about us. It’s about Noor. We have no inherent right to see any of it.

And we’re free to turn the page, move on, and be oblivious to all the pain.

  • Jim in RF

    I still don’t understand media’s obsession with cameras in courtrooms. (Or actually, I do: self-interest in more easily producing content). There is nothing “…to prevent us from seeing what goes on…”; almost all court rooms are open and anyone without a weapon can visit as long as they’re not interfering. There is nothing going on behind closed doors. Cameras will inevitably result in criminal justice system staff performing for the camera, either consciously or subconsciously.

    • By that logic, there’s no point in showing you pictures of the stranded cars on the highways of southern Minnesota. You can go there and see it for yourself.

      The MN Legislature is televised. People seem to like that. But you could go there, too, if you wanted to see it, so what’s the benefit of TV?

      BTW, you won’t be able — in all liklihood — to go see for yourself . There isn’t enough room in the courtroom.

      In any event, there’s no point in belaboring the issue since there’s no way to adequately discuss it. This state had what was essentially a sham three year “experiment” under the same rules. So there was no way to test the theory that people would perform — yeah, I know, OJ Simpson… OJ Simpson… OJ Simpson. I get it.

      But without any data, it’s impossible to adequately assess the impact of cameras.

      • Jim in RF

        No, my logic does not say that. What I said was that cameras in the courtroom will inevitably distract attention away from what the professionals should be doing. The trial doesn’t exist for viewers at all; it exists for the State and the defendant. It’s not the Legislature or the Sewer Commission or whatever other canard someone wants to lead me to.

        I don’t care one hoot about pictures of cars. Take all you want, as long as you don’t actually create or enlarge a story by covering it.

        • Perhaps I think too much of the integrity and professionalism of our judicial participants.

        • ironkitten

          I mean, I agree that we don’t need cameras in the courtroom, but WE are the “State”, guy. That’s not a valid argument.

          • Thta doesn’t give you standing in a courtroom.

          • ironkitten

            I’m not talking about standing. I’m talking about what he said about trials not existing for “viewers”. We are the State, we are The People. The trial exists so the State can get justice. You cannot separate the two.

          • Sure you can. You don’t have anything to do with justice. You’re not a party in the courtroom. You did your job when you voted and that’s that. Your job is done. You might have interest, but you don’t have anything to do now with the process.

          • ironkitten


  • Gary F

    “as long as they’re not interfering”
    “Cameras will inevitably result in criminal justice system staff performing for the camera”

    As much as would like to see cameras in the courtroom, I would think this trial is going to be heated, crazy, and out of control, even without cameras.

    • Erik Petersen

      I don’t agree… there’s no reason to think it will be crazy or out of control. FB news comment threads will be crazy and out of control, but not the court room.

      • Gary F

        Family members from both sides in the audience will make this a sh_t show. Guaranteed.

        • Erik Petersen

          People who disrupt court get removed from court.

          • Gary F

            Yes they do, and new activists will replace them. Both sides.

          • Erik Petersen

            ‘Activist’ brigades are not going to get seated in court given limited seat availability.

            There are no sets of ‘activists’ working this case.

          • Gary F

            Or family.

            Sh_t show. Circus. Better give the judge a higher quality gavel.

          • Erik Petersen

            Family that disrupt are going to be removed. If the Damonds or Ruscyks go crazy, they get removed. If the Noors go crazy, they get removed.

            What are you getting at? What assumption are you counting on?

        • Rob

          Booshwah. What’s the basis for your assertion?

    • Barton

      We’ve already seen this happen: with OJ Simpson.

      • Right. The OJ trial certainly is behind a lot of this.

  • Barton

    I look forward to the journalists’ succinct reporting on this (Noor’s) trial, versus watching the testimony of others. Just for the sake of brevity, really. I mean, Nina Totenberg’s recite/review of US Supreme Court arguments is just the best part of a news program.

    I remember OJ Simpson’s trial: that was a media circus made into a national reality show. I do think that it is the exception, not the rule, when it comes to televised trials…. at least I hope so.

    • I’m pretty sure nobody is asking to provide live coverage, although maybe they were. But having a picture of what’s happening in a courtroom (as opposed to video) seems pretty harmless.

      • Barton

        That’s a fair point. I was actually assuming live feed.

  • Jack

    Putting the courtroom sketch artist out of business.

  • Benny Blanco

    May I ask if even the minimum coverage will be available to hear or read. Thanks