NO CAMERAS IN THE COURT, FOR NOW

The Richmond Times Dispatchreported over the weekend that both state appellate courts had quickly acted on a petition for expedited review of a Henrico trial court’s order barring media coverage of a highly-publicized murder trial in that county. In Commonwealth v. Rountree, a woman is accused of shooting her ex-husband, a University of Richmond professor, to death in the driveway of his home.

The newspaper and two local television stations had sought permission from the Henrico Circuit Court to cover this week’s trial with television and still cameras. Judge L. A. Harris, Jr. prohibited the coverage last Tuesday, and the stations appealed the next day to the Court of Appeals of Virginia. The court first stated that it did not have jurisdiction, according to the article, and declined to consider it, since the petitioners did not file a notice of appeal. The petitioners’ lawyers corrected this omission the next day, Thursday, including with their petition a request for expedited review.

Instead of considering the revised petition, the Court of Appeals transferred the case to the Supreme Court (where it should have been filed anyway). Acting with remarkable speed, the Supreme Court granted the motion for expedited review, and refused the petition for appeal without comment (as is customary for refused petitions). The case is noteworthy for the speed with which the Supreme Court turned around the decision (probably no more than two or three hours from the time the court received the paperwork from the Court of Appeals).

The effect of the ruling is that the media will be limited to using the printed word to report on the progress of this week’s trial.

[One related point: Some discussion arose last year on the topic of broadcasting appellate arguments, as some jurisdictions have begun to permit.  In discussing this point at that time, this writer expressed the opinion that anyone wanting to know if the Supreme Court of Virginia would permit cameras in its courtroom should check the Weather Channel, and look for the onset of a major cold front in the environs of Hell.  My view has softened somewhat since then, but in the short run, you are still much more likely to see the justices in camera than on camera.]