by Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (retired)

The two year test of Cameras in the Court in NY State was finally enacted into law but with more stringent restrictions than ever. In arraignments, if either the prosecutor or the defense attorney denied the camera application, the judge was not permitted to over rule.

Permission had to be attained to shoot most witnesses. And on and on to the point where about the only thing that was left to photograph were the attorneys (and excuse me, folks, but why bother?) and the defendant. Unless the story was a major epic, we found ourselves doing fewer and fewer courtroom stories. Some of us saw this coming and pleaded with our department heads to be allowed to go to the state capitol and try to talk reason with the senate and legislative committee members. The answer we got was that the publisher’s lobbyists would plead our case. Well, if you’ve read this far, it’s obvious that little effort was made on our behalf before the new rules were rammed down our throats. I can’t help but wonder what the reaction from the editors and publishers would have been if such restrictions were placed on the writers. Well, 40 years ago, when I entered this noble profession, I was told by the man who hired me that journalism is a word man’s game and I had better get used to it.

However, our forays into the sacrosanct halls of justice has not been without its’ share of stories for this thread. Here are a few.

At a recess in one of the first cases I covered, a judge called me up to the bench. “I’m not at all happy with this cameras in the court thing.” stated the judge. “It disrupts my courtroom and delays the trial.”

I asked why and he went on, “You cameramen come in to my courtroom wearing tee shirts and jeans and I have to delay the trial while you string your wires and set-up your cameras.”

“I beg your pardon, Your Honor,” I replied. “I’m wearing a jacket and a tie and pressed slacks, and every morning I have my camera and tripod set up and resting in a corner before you even start your calendar call. When you call for the trial, I walk up and set-up my camera before the defendant is even brought to the defense table.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean you, Dick” he said. “I was talking about the tv crew.”

Aha. I realized then and there that we would have to make sure that the judges and lawyers made the distinction between stills and video, and if there was a problem with one, we had to make certain that the other was not penalized.

“With all due respect, Your Honor, I blame you for the problem,” I told him. “The rules from the Legislature concerning dress and decorum are very explicit. As are the rules stating that the court should not be delayed because of the media. All you have to do is bar the tv people because they are wearing inappropriate clothing; especially when they wear tee shirts with their station logos because logos are forbidden. And if you refuse to delay the start of the trial because the crew arrived late and was unable to string their mike cables, you can be sure that the next time, their station manager will see to it that they are dressed accordingly and arrive on time.”

I don’t like to fink on my fellow photographers, but it is quite common for them to appear in court dressed with little or no regard to the regulations. And then is it any wonder that we get such little respect from the courts? I don’t mean to single out only video crews, although they seem to be the worst offenders. I have seen still shooters poorly dressed for the occasion. I feel that if you know that you will be covering a court story before you leave for work, you should be able to dress appropriately.

No, I am not a member of the clothing police. But, we really don’t have a leg to stand on when we are denied access to the courtrooms with our cameras if we continue to disregard some basic regulations enacted by the Legislature.

Dick Kraus



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