Simpson, families battle over courtroom cameras
August 23, 1996
LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- For almost a year, one lone camera provided an eye for the world to see and decide for itself whether O.J. Simpson was guilty or innocent of murder.
Through that one lens, millions watched and debated whether the witnesses looked and sounded credible and whether the evidence fit the suspect.
Now, the tables are turning in O.J. Simpson's continuing saga.
On Thursday, the families of Ron Goldman and Simpson's ex- wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, asked a judge to allow live television coverage of their wrongful death civil lawsuits filed against the former football player.
The irony, this time, is that Simpson, who last October was found not guilty of the brutal stabbing deaths and once argued in support of the camera, is now opposing it.
Kelli Sager, a media attorney, says the camera is essential to picking up the visual nuances of the unfolding courtroom drama.
"We need to see the visual nuances to make accurate assessments of witness and evidence credibility," Sager said. "Most of the criticism was aimed at the media outside the courtroom, but the camera is the only thing the judge can control."
Judge Hiroshi Fujusaki is exerting that control, thanks to changes in California's Rule 980, which gives judges more power to restrict the presence and influence of the media.
"Judge Fujusaki may be motivated by the circus of the criminal trial to ensure this one will be different. He may not want the pressure of having his own actions scrutinized like Judge Ito's were," said Laurie Levenson, dean of Loyola Law School. "There's no constitutional protection for cameras in court, and that's the end of it."
But the constitution does guarantee the public the right to witness court proceedings. The problem lies in how the judge determines the public should witness them -- through the eyes of a camera or from one of the limited seats in court.
"Cameras in court are just messengers; don't blame them, blame the participants," said CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren.
The Goldman and Brown families agree, arguing that Americans should "see and hear what the jury sees and hears in this case."
They also argued that if TV stations which covered Simpson's criminal trial were not allowed to use live footage of the civil case, they may revert to clips of the previous trial. Those clips, the petition said, "may differ materially from what is presented at this (civil) trial."
Simpson, who did not take the witness stand in his criminal trial, is expected to testify during the civil case, heightening interest in the proceedings, much of which is expected to be a repeat of evidence given in the first trial.
The victims' families argued that TV stations would "spend even more time than they otherwise would with analysts and other secondhand reports of the days events" if there is no live coverage of the trial due to start September 17.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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