Friday, January 22, 2016

Will Laquan death give us local television coverage of slayer’s trial?

It seems that Jason Van Dyke, the Chicago police officer who now faces criminal charges for the shooting death of a 17-year-old boy whose moments of death were caught on somewhat-graphic video is going to wind up being a legal guinea pig of sorts.

VAN DYKE: Soon to be star of 'reality' show?
Other counties have permitted television cameras to shoot video of legal proceedings in their courts. There even have been a few instances within Cook County circuit court.

BUT ALL OF those cases tended to be for incidents of little lasting consequence. Or even much public interest at the moment.

If Van Dyke’s case of multiple counts of murder winds up going to trial, it could be the first Chicago-based criminal proceeding that winds up getting national viewing.

It could be the first instance where we get to see whether cameras in the courtroom actually create a circus-like atmosphere that turns the legal proceedings into a joke. Or is that just a lot of hot air being spewed all these years by court officials who enjoy being able to have the power of the law back up their desire to be a batch of control freaks?

What happened this week was that Judge Vincent Gaughan ruled a television camera could be in his courtroom when Van Dyke is scheduled to appear again on Jan. 29 – a week from Friday for those of you who have trouble reading calendars.

THAT HEARING ISN’T going to amount to much. It’s just a status hearing, and one being held early in the legal process at that.

I have been around courthouses across the Chicago area and Illinois during my years as a reporter-type person, and can tell you that most status hearings last barely a couple of minutes.

They’re usually a quick moment in which the judge checks in with attorneys for both the prosecution and defense to see how their cases are proceeding. Often, the most significant fact that comes out of a status hearing is announcement of the next court date.

Now I realize that in the Van Dyke case, the stakes will be higher and even the most-minute of details will wind up being turned into stories so as to give the appearance that the case is getting intense coverage.

BUT STILL, I can’t help but think a lot of people are going to come away disappointed following next Friday's hearing. Some of us older people may wind up remembering that old Peggy Lee tune, “Is That All There Is?”

I did find it interesting that Gaughan’s ruling to permit the camera in the status hearing was very limited. He’s reserving judgment as to whether they should be permitted in other hearings, or an eventual trial itself.

It could easily turn out that the hearings providing information that would make for interesting copy will wind up being covered the old-fashioned way, with detailed newspaper accounts and the courtroom sketch artists providing their quickie glimpses of what happened in the courtroom.

While television cameras from each station remain perched outside so as to catch daily glimpses of Van Dyke and his attorneys coming to, and leaving from, the courthouse – while the broadcast reporters gripe about the lack of video.

I’LL BE HONEST. As a newspaper reporter, I always enjoyed the advantage of sorts that I held over a television type at the courthouse. So from a purely personal jealousy aspect, I like the status quo.

Although I’m realistic enough to know that this is a change that eventually will become commonplace. It probably is absurd that other parts of the country have adapted while Cook County still regards it as unique for a case (or at least snippets of it) to be viewed on television.

But it will be interesting to see how the activist-types respond to having the issue of their concern watched by the general public, instead of us having to rely upon their own descriptions of what they want us to believe took place.

Although there also is a part of me that wonders if they’re going to resent having television shift their attention away from their protest actions and toward Van Dyke himself!


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