I would suggest anyone interested in the exciting world of journalism spend a few days in district court.
Whether it be a high-profile case or just run-of-the-mill proceedings, a few nine-to-fives in Sedgwick County District Court will easily establish a baseline of tedium.
Abortion provider George Tiller’s trial is the case in point.
The charges against Tiller are considered by many — even as reported in The Wichita Eagle — as being more or less “technical” charges: Tiller faces 19 misdemeanor charges about whether he had an improper financial relationship with a Lawrence, Kan., doctor providing second opinions on late-term abortions.
(As an aside, highly esteemed and now retired federal defense attorney Charlie Anderson — who is also my former father-in-law — once chided me, “It is NOT just a technicality,” when I suggested 20 years ago during a Christmas family gathering that most of his clients were crooks anyway.
He explained that what’s really on trial is whether or not appointed or elected officials (cops and judges, for instance) followed the law. They, he said, are actually the ones on trial. If the law is not followed we can easily end up living in a police state wherein those same cops and elected officials can do whatever they darn well please. That’s why he represented these folks… to protect a free society.
I have yet to hear a more concise explanation of why defense lawyers should have our respect.)
Anyway, courtroom drama is not particularly visual for the cameraman.
Weeping victims and finger-pointing accomplices aside, every minute with our eyeballs pressed against the viewfinder of a tripod-mounted camera encased in sound-insulating gauze, waiting for a significant gesture or expression, seems like 20 minutes at a Monopoly tournament.
We’re hoping to capture any expressions or gestures that reflect the overall demeanor of the person on the stand. Regardless of what many think, we really don’t take sides. For someone like Dr. Tiller, a composed, articulate and attentive defendant, those gestures can be miniscule.
Choosing the image(s) that are published in the Wichita Eagle and on Kansas.com should reflect the reality of the defendant’s demeanor during his or her time on the stand.
Nonetheless, an hour in the courtroom feels like a day on the front line. Kinda like shooting a baseball game, only with a more significant outcome.