CALIFORNIA–The debate over whether Los Angeles County can charge the electronic media for trial costs not directly related to the airing or recording of the O.J. Simpson double-murder trial has moved from the County Board of Supervisors to the California legislature.
In mid-March, Superior Court Judge Lance Ito came out against a plan proposed by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, who adopted a motion in late February which would charge commercial broadcasters for part of the trial costs.
Rule 980 of the California Rules of Court gives the trial judge the exclusive discretion to permit, refuse, limit or terminate broadcasting of trial proceedings. The rule also states that the broadcasting or recording should occur “without public expense.”
In his order, however, Ito found Rule 980 does not allow the court to impose access fees on the news media but only to charge “exact payment for those expenses caused by the news media access, such as the necessity of rewiring or improving electrical power availability.”
The need to sequester the jury in the Simpson case was a result of the overall news media frenzy outside the courtroom, not a direct consequence of the camera presence in the courtroom, he wrote.
Despite his order against imposing fees, Ito said the issue of charging electronic media for trial coverage “appears to be a matter ripe for legislative action.”
In late March, the board of supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of a motion to support legislation which allows judges to charge the media for electronic coverage. Media attorney Kelli Sager said in mid-April that County Supervisor Michael Antonovich still is looking for a sponsor for the bill.
State Assembly Member Paula Boland (R-Granada Hills) already had introduced similar legislation in late February which was in committee as of mid-April.
Also in late March, California State Sen. Richard Mountjoy (R-Los Angeles) proposed legislation to have the state pay for the cost of the Simpson trial which, if passed, could take the focus off charging the electronic media, Sager said.
In a related matter, a newly formed “task force” created by the board to examine the issue of the county’s involvement in future electronic coverage of trials met once in late March and again in mid-April. The group concluded that it is not feasible, as suggested by the board, to install broadcast equipment and charge for its use because it would cost an estimated $6 million to install the equipment in each of the 12 district Superior Court buildings.
The task force is scheduled to hold its final meeting in late April and a report is expected to follow.
The Reporters Committee regularly files friend-of-the-court briefs and its attorneys represent journalists and news organizations pro bono in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, the newsgathering rights of journalists and access to public information. Stay up-to-date on our work by signing up for our monthly newsletter and following us on Twitter or Instagram.