By Peter Rossi, LAW WEEK COLORADO
DENVER — Reporters won’t be allowed to tweet, photograph or use an audio recording device for the bulk of next week’s trial of Aaron Thompson, charged with child abuse resulting in the death of his daughter, Aarone, who’s missing and presumed dead.
A single still camera and one video camera are all that’s allowed during opening and closing arguments and sentencing.
Eighteenth Judicial District Judge Valeria Spencer released a five-page decision on the Denver Media Group’s request for expanded media coverage.
At a hearing a week ago, the media group, consisting of all the Denver television stations as well as KOA radio, sought to have a video camera present for the duration of the trial. The group was represented by Bruce Jones, a partner at the law firm of Holland & Hart.
The focus of the hearing, Jones said, was the district attorney’s assertion that the presence of a camera or video camera would inhibit witnesses’ ability to testify. Eight children are named as victims in some of the 60 charges against Thompson. Six of those children are to testify at trial. Spencer sided with the district attorney.
“The court is not convinced that there is an overriding purpose that justifies the admission of cameras in the courtroom in this case,” Spencer wrote.
Spencer cited concerns for the witnesses as well as defendant Thompson’s concerns that expanded media coverage would inhibit a fair trial.
Jones said that the media would have turned the cameras off when the minors were testifying, but the request still denied.
“I can’t recollect ever having access limited in that manner,” Jones said. “Only allowing (cameras during) opening arguments, closings and the verdict and sentence is unusual.”
“Tweeting,” the use of the micro-blogging service Twitter, will not be allowed at the trial either, and no interviews will be permitted on the fourth floor of the courthouse where the trial is taking place. Jones says Spencer did not provide a rationale in the order, but he hypothesized why she decided to disallow the live updates.
“That has become somewhat of a hot issue in the judiciary because of stories about jurors tweeting or witnesses tweeting during the course of trial,” Jones said. “Perhaps she is aware of that, sensitized to that, and is concerned about the potential impact.”
With fewer resources for the journalists — they’re still allowed laptops during the trial — it is possible the accuracy and depth of reporting will suffer. “When you eliminate essentially simultaneous coverage options, you’re going to increase the risk that somebody reports on something they thought they heard,” Jones said.
“And I definitely think it can lead to less depth of coverage because in this day and age streaming coverage from the courtroom allows for in-depth coverage on an ongoing basis to whatever audience wants to have access,” Jones added.
Without live updates, the public won’t get full coverage about what is occurring during a portion of the trial. That absence will force reporters to determine what the most important information of the day is, Jones says, removing readers’ ability to choose and read through all the day’s events.
Thompson’s trial, which begins Monday, is expected to last more than two months.