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A Court $cam and Why I’m As Mad as Hell

March 12, 2015

“The court may, in its discretion, exclude all spectators except representatives of the press during the testimony of a witness whenever reasonably necessary to prevent embarrassment or emotional disturbance of the witness.” - Arizona Rules of Criminal Procedure, Rule 9.3 

 

 Anyone who has followed the sentencing phase of the Jodi Arias trial knows, on October 30, 2014, Maricopa County Superior Court judge Sherry Stephens disregarded the rule of criminal procedure and removed all representatives of the media from the court and allowed Arias to testify in secret. 

 

So egregious was this violation that days later the Arizona Court of Appeals overruled the decision and put an effective end to Stephens’ “star chamber.”

 

Yesterday, the same court that prohibited the media from airing any trial footage until after the verdict, made available its own footage of the trial. The price? A mind-blowing $1710.

 

Now I’m no lawyer, so let me try to understand this. A court bars the media from videotaping the testimony of a trial witness (Jodi Arias), testimony the public has a constitutionally guaranteed right to witness, then turns around and sells its own footage to the media and public alike? 

 

Movie theaters preventing you from bringing in refreshments so it can sell you an $8 box of Goobers ain’t got nothing on these guys.

 

It is repugnant.

 

However, the distaste over the prodigious fee has nothing to do with the fact its the Arias trial. The trial was distasteful enough. No, the issue is the vile cash grab that slaps the face of every taxpayer in Maricopa County. They’ve already ponied up more than three million bucks for this spectacle.

 

The court is profiteering from a murder trial. Plain and simple.

 

It has slapped a wantonly greedy price on something that’s part of the public record. The court has choices, and it chose to scalp you like the guy selling Motley Crue tickets for 100 times face value. It could charge a simple administrative fee, say $35, or could pledge to take the $1710 for each copy and put it toward a legal defense fund or a fund to help the families of crime victims, or the victims themselves. That would be respectable. But they’re not, and this isn’t.

 

I’ve seen this sort of civic shakedown before. A couple of years ago, a county sheriff’s office in New Mexico told the media it would no longer make mugshots available for free. They wanted a $25 fee for each one requested. Albuquerque NBC affiliate, KOB-TV, along with ABC affiliate, KOAT-TV, fought it and won. A mugshot is public record, and so is the Arias trial.

 

You have a right to see it without being gouged.

 

At least those Albuquerque stations saw the issue and fought. It is bewildering that in Phoenix, Arizona, not a single media outlet, that I’ve seen so far, seems to see a problem here. I have to logically assume they don’t because there hasn’t been a single story on this repulsive assault on your rights. And here I thought one of the cornerstones of journalism is the belief that our duties include holding the government accountable to its citizens.

 

This sets a dangerous precedent. When a government entity bans a free press from providing something to which you are legally entitled, and then doubles back to charge you an excessive fee for it, it is time to heed the words of the great Howard Beale, “I AM MAD AS HELL AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE.”

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