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Judge dismisses motion to ban cameras from trial

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    NMU         TENNESS

    NMU         TENNESSEE         Broadcasting         Mar 22, 2001    

Judge dismisses motion to ban cameras from trial

  • Following a six-year-old state procedural rule allowing cameras in courts if the judge does not object to them, a court protects “the constitutional guarantee of a public trial.”

A Tennessee judge on March 16 rejected a claim by an accused murderer that allowing camera access to his trial would infringe upon his right to a fair trial.

The attorney for defendant Javvor Thomas, 19, accused in the shooting death of a 24-year-old woman, asked the court to bar cameras. He said that potential witnesses could learn from the media how others testified and then alter their own testimony, making it impossible for Thomas to receive a fair trial.

Knox County Criminal Court judge Richard Baumgartner denied the defense motion, citing the Tennessee rules that afford camera use in the courts. The only way to guard against witnesses learning of testimony, the judge said, would be to completely close the court to all media personnel and others who could potentially disclose statements made on the stand.

“That option flies in the face of the constitutional guarantee of a public trial and is clearly not an alternative this court is willing to entertain,” Baumgartner wrote in his order.

The motion followed one filed in February that sought to prohibit all media coverage of the trial.

Attorneys for The Knoxville News-Sentinel and WBIR-TV, both of which argued to block the motion, said defense attorney Ursula Bailey failed to give evidence that camera coverage would adversely affect Thomas’ chance at a fair trial.

“The presence of the press and cameras in the courtroom is as much a safeguard for the defendant as anyone else,” News-Sentinel attorney Richard L. Hollow said in a News-Sentinel article.

Cameras have been allowed in Tennessee courtrooms since 1995, following the adoption of a rule that also allows a judge to “refuse, limit, terminate, or temporarily suspend” press coverage in order to ensure the control of court proceedings, courtroom decorum, courtroom safety and the fair administration of justice.

(Tennessee v. Thomas; Media Counsel: Richard L. Hollow, Watson, Hollow & Reeves, Knoxville; L. Caesar Stair III, Bernstein, Stair & McAdams, Knoxville) EH

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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