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.
As for this Friday's final pretrial hearing, court officials are only reserving 8 seats for journos – 4 for local media, and 4 for national/international outlets – citing "significant interest" in the case. An overflow room will stream audio, but not video, of the proceedings.
— Libor Jany (@StribJany) February 25, 2019
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.