WAFB renews battle for cameras in Louisiana courtrooms

Published: Mar. 31, 2009 at 5:46 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 7, 2009 at 4:53 PM CDT
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By Jim Shannon - bio | email

BATON ROUGE (WAFB) - Arguing that the station's viewers have a "compelling interest," WAFB-TV made a request Tuesday to place a television camera inside a courtroom at the 19th Judicial District Court to cover an upcoming murder trial.

The request renewed a long-time battle to allow cameras in all Louisiana courtrooms. Currently, Louisiana generally only allows television cameras in appellate courts. 19 states currently allow cameras in all courtrooms. Most of those states allow the presiding judge broad discretion in how the process works. For example, a judge may direct camera operators or photographers not to shoot the faces of certain witnesses.

Louisiana law allows for a judge to permit cameras in court for trial-level proceedings in certain circumstances, but that is rarely allowed. Louisiana rules call for no more than two television cameras allowed in court at a time. Media outlets in Louisiana have long fought for a law that would allow cameras in courtrooms at all levels. Opponents say cameras in the courtroom could intimidate witnesses or lead to a "circus" type atmosphere in which lawyers, defendants, witnesses, or judges tend to "play" to the camera and alter the way they would normally act in court.

WAFB-TV is requesting permission to cover the trial of murder suspect Tracy Young. Young is accused of the 2006 murder of a waiter outside the Olive Garden restaurant on Siegen Lane. Presiding Judge Don Johnson has not yet ruled on the request. Johnson is expected to set a date for the trial during a hearing Wednesday. In a letter to Judge Johnson, attorneys for WAFB-TV wrote that the station's viewers have a "compelling interest in the trial proceedings."

"WAFB-TV's airing of audio and video recorded at the trial would also allow an interested public to gain a better understanding of the legal issues involved in Mr. Young's case," wrote station attorney Stephen A. Weiswasser. Young's defense attorney, Mark Marinoff, says he is in favor of allowing cameras in the courtroom to cover the trial. "I have conferred with Mr. Young, I've conferred with co-counsel, and we don't have an objection," Marinoff said. 

District Attorney Hillar Moore did not specifically say he is opposed but indicated serious concerns about the rules that would be in place regarding cameras in courtrooms. "I'd surely rather not have witnesses (on camera) who we now have difficult problems coming to court," Moore said. "I surely hate to have their pictures on television and what they have to say that's in court. I think that it gives us less protection for witnesses."

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