Virginia Supreme Court ponders when to let cameras in courtrooms

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

The Supreme Court of Virginia is considering whether judges have a right to kick television cameras out of the courtroom without giving a reason, a controversy that stems from last year's high-profile murder trial of University of Virginia lacrosse player George Huguely V.

The Virginia Broadcasting Corp. is suing the state over a decision by a Charlottesville circuit court judge to ban television news stations from recording the trial of Huguely, the U.Va. student-athlete convicted in 2012 of murdering his former girlfriend, 22-year-old Yeardley Love, in May 2010.

The broadcasters allege that Judge Edward L. Hogshire barred cameras from the courtroom without providing a reason because he believed he had "unfettered discretion to prohibit the use of a camera during the sentencing" of Huguely, the group said.

"The trial court erred in holding that Virginia Broadcasting Corporation's newsgathering and reporting activities via electronic media were entitled to no protection under the First Amendment ... or the Constitution [of] Virginia, including its denial of Virginia Broadcasting's request to use a camera to acquire the news while allowing the print media to use the primary tools of its trade."

The law itself is somewhat hazy on when judges have a right to kick cameras and reporters out, and the Supreme Court ruling may provide greater clarity. One part of Virginia Code says that judges may "solely in its discretion permit the taking" of photographs, audio and video, but another says they must have "good cause shown" to do so.

At the time, Huguely's attorney, Francis Lawrence, and Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Warner Chapman both asked the court to not allow the cameras. In a court motion, Huguely's counsel said the cameras would "interfere with the conduct of the trial." There was also a concern that the courtroom structure would make it difficult to avoid filming jurors, a violation of courtroom rules.

The broadcasters said it was a mistake for the judge to rely on his "own speculation and the speculations of counsel" in denying the request.

The next opportunity for the Supreme Court to rule on the case is during its June session.

Huguely is now serving a 26-year sentence for second-degree murder.

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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