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Judges bar cameras in high-profile cases

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Judges bar cameras in high-profile cases

  • Two California superior court judges presiding over the murder trials of actor Robert Blake and Scott Peterson have barred cameras from their respective courtrooms.

Feb. 10, 2004 — A Los Angeles superior court judge last week barred television cameras from recording testimony in actor Robert Blake’s murder trial, one day after a San Mateo superior court judge barred all cameras from Scott Peterson’s murder trial.

Judge Darlene Schempp in Los Angeles cited the potential impact of televised testimony on future witnesses in her decision. Judge Alfred Delucchi in San Mateo, Calif., said witnesses and jurors in the Peterson trial would become “antsy.”

Schempp said Feb. 3 that witnesses were bound to watch the testimony of others if televised, and might be moved to change their testimony once on the stand. She added that Blake’s right to a fair trial is more important that the public’s need for access.

Television cameras will be allowed to record the opening statements, closing statements and the verdict. Twenty-five print reporters and still cameras will be allowed full access to the court.

“Because Mr. Blake is a celebrity, I know there is a great interest in this case,” Schempp said. “I have a great concern that witnesses can watch what someone else testified to the day before and let it color their testimony.”

Media attorney Kelli Sager of Davis Wright Tremaine in Los Angeles said the judge’s logic is flawed. Since print reporters will be able to cover the trial — including all testimony — potential witnesses will have access to court proceedings anyway. Sager is trying to persuade both Schempp and Delucchi to allow cameras in their respective courtrooms.

She is widely credited with convincing Judge Lance Ito to allow cameras in the courtroom for the 1995 O.J. Simpson murder trial.

Blake, the former star of the 1970s television show “Baretta,” is charged with murdering his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, in May 2001. Bakley was shot to death while sitting in a car outside the restaurant where she and Blake had just dined. Blake claims he went back into the restaurant to get a gun he had left at the table when Bakley was shot. He has denied any involvement in her murder.

Both the prosecution and the defense in Peterson’s murder trial called for all cameras to be barred from the courtroom. On Feb.2, Delucchi obliged. Defense attorney Mark Geragos said he wanted to avoid “a bigger zoo than it already is.”

Peterson, 31, is charged with murder in the deaths of his wife, Laci, and their unborn son. He was caught by law enforcement authorities while attempting to leave the country.

In announcing his decision, Delucchi said, “Jurors get antsy when there’s cameras in the court. Witnesses get antsy.” Delucchi added that reporters will be allowed in the court. “This is not going to be a secret trial,” he said.

Delucchi also ruled yesterday that jurors’ names will not be made public, although the jury selection process will be open to the media.

(California v. Blake; California v. Peterson; Media Counsel: Kelli Sager, Davis, Wright, Tremaine, Los Angeles) LH

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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