Every now and then, a case comes along that attracts intense media and public attention. It could be the trial of a public figure, a horrific and notorious crime, a constitutional issue that has political ramifications.
No matter the subject, the extra work these high-profile cases generate can be overwhelming for already-busy court staff juggling full dockets and responsibilities. What is often misunderstood or ignored is that the courts must balance providing access to the public and the press while preserving due process and equal protection to the parties. Here are a few things that can help ensure a smoother courtroom experience for everyone.
1. Choose a media liaison who can respond to requests for information. Reporters need to know court procedures, what is happening and when, and they need access to public filings. The liaison should be prepared to field phone calls and requests as part of his or her responsibility to the public. Keep an email file of the documents so that they can easily be sent to requestors. Remember that the public usually does not know nearly as much as you do about what is happening in the courthouse. Be patient.
2. Admin. Order No. 6 addresses photos and broadcasting in the courtroom. It is up to the judge whether cameras will be allowed. If anyone objects, they shall not be allowed. Will the judge allow recording devices? Laptops? Phones? Learn this rule and determine access in advance.
3. Are you expecting a large crowd at the trial? You should plan to reserve seating for the press and perhaps for family members of the parties. If the trial is expected to be contentious, consider reserving seats for families on different sides of the courtroom.
4. Jurors. Admonish them repeatedly about not using social media! We do not even think anymore about what is “communication.” Jurors are talking about the cases on Facebook and Twitter. Remind them of their duties.
Contact Stephanie Harris, Supreme Court’s Communications Counsel, at Stephanie.M.Harris@Arkansas.gov for the full Guide for Arkansas Courts with High-Profile Cases. She can help you prepare for these cases.