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Publicizing Court Proceedings Can Taint the Process

On April 7, 2011, the Scott M. Matheson, Sr., American Inn of Court hosted Justice Michael J. Wilkins who spoke on civility among lawyers and in the legal profession. Justice Wilkins was appointed to the Utah Supreme Court in January 2000, and served on the Court for ten years until he retired.

While on the Court, he chaired the Utah Supreme Court’s Committee on Civility and Professionalism. During that time, he traveled to Mexico and met with Mexico’s Supreme Court members. He learned then that in an effort to establish public confidence, the Supreme Court of Mexico has its own TV channel.

Everything the Mexican Supreme Court says, all deliberations and discussions about a case, are public and are broadcast on TV to the Mexican people. Each justice of the Supreme Court of Mexico has his or her own bodyguards, an armored car and guards to protect their family. Many of the Mexican people do not believe the Mexican Courts are neutral and that they serve out justice. Many believe the judges are bought off or will throw a case out of fear for their safety or the safety of their family.

Justice Wilkins pointed out that many courts in the United States, including most federal courts, believe that publicizing court proceedings is disruptive to the proceedings and can unfairly taint the process. What would happen, for example, if the media were allowed to watch the deliberations of judges in an appellate case, or the deliberations of jurors over a criminal matter?

If the judges or jurors knew whatever they said against the accused was recorded and broadcast to the family, friends or the gang of the accused, the judges or jurors may not be candid about their views and opinions. The judicial process would be disrupted.

Attorneys have a duty to honor and respect the judicial process and teach their clients to do the same. Clients need to understand that the rule of law allows for predictability in people’s lives. Credibility challenges to the Courts and the judicial system can have the effect of undermining the rule of law and the safety of all persons affected by the law.

As lawyers, we each have a stake in the judicial system, for ourselves and for our clients. We must honor the law and the judicial system and not do anything that would threaten the credibility or integrity of the judicial process in the United States.

Lewis P. Reece
Shareholder, Snow Jensen & Reece

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