by Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (retired)

Judges and lawyers seem blissfully unaware of the technical differences and requirements in camera coverage by tv and stills. One case that I was covering, along with tv, was getting to that ho hum boring stage where technical experts were talking about technical stuff and it made for some pretty dull pictures. The liveliest art came during sidebar at the judge’s bench between the prosecutor, the lawyer and the judge. Sometimes these discussions can get pretty animated and it offers the photographers a rare opportunity to show the three principals in the same shot.

The defense attorney saw that this particular sidebar was being photographed and made an objection to it. The judge upheld the objection and forbade any more photographing of sidebars.

At a recess, I asked the attorney why he had objected. “I don’t want any prospective witnesses listening in to any comments that I may make in private discussion at the judge’s bench.” he said.

“Counselor”, I replied. “Think about what you are saying. That may be true of tv but I’m shooting stills and there is no sound.”

“Yes, I guess that’s true, but suppose someone can read lips?”

“Counselor, think carefully. We’re talking about a single still photo here.” I said.

He pondered for a moment to let what I said sink in, and finally agreed to ask the judge to rescind the ruling, provided the tv sound at the bench was turned off.

Another time I was sent to cover a case in Family Court. Now, that’s a tough one to get into under any circumstances. The case involved a mother accused of “Munchhousen Syndrome.” That’s where the mother smothers her child almost to the point of death and then tries to revive the child in an attempt to play a heroic figure. In NY we have a ruling where application for cameras in the court must be submitted 7 days prior to being allowed in court. I reminded my editor of this and was told to make an effort to get in. He told me that the tv news magazine “20/20” was already in and I should try to use that as my bargaining point.

I arrived at the courtroom before the start of that day’s trial and presented my petition. The judge summarily dismissed my papers, not for the 7 day rule, but simply because he felt that my presence would disrupt the proceedings. While I was listening to this, I couldn’t help but notice the “20/20” crew walking all over the courtroom, filming the day’s events. The rules specifically forbid any movement of any camera. Plus, this crew consisted of the cameraman, the sound man, the reporter and the producer. Now, let’s talk about disruption. I pled my case with all of the expertise that I could muster. The judge said that he saw no reason to include another camera since tv was already there. He said that I could get my pictures from tv. I started to explain about the issue of quality from a frame grab, but, he cut me off and ordered me out of the court. I guess he felt that being on national tv would be enough. He didn’t need any glory from the local paper.

So, I did what any right thinking still photographer would do. I called my desk and told them to get the paper’s attorney down here, fast. But, first he should make a call to the Chief Judge and complain about the shabby treatment we were accorded.

The Chief Judge made a phone call to the trial judge’s chambers and after the lunch break, this judge announced in open court that he was being forced to admit the still photographer.

“But”, he announced, “before I subject this court to your disruptive presence, I want to hear how loud your cameras are. Please shoot a picture.”

I had a Nikon F4 which has a motor which can’t be disabled in order to shoot manually. But, it does have a “quiet mode” which slows down the film advance and is much quieter than my F3 in manual mode. However, in the hushed courtroom, with everybody’s attention on me, my shutter sounded like a rifle shot going off.

“Oh no”, he shouted. “I can’t have that racket in here. I will allow you to shoot one shot while the witness is being sworn; one shot during testimony and one shot as the witness leaves the stand. If I hear that camera go off more than 3 times per witness, I will hold you in contempt.”

There wasn’t anything I could do, but at least I was able to shoot something. So, the first witness was sworn and I took my first shot. I hesitated taking my second shot during the witness’s testimony, because I didn’t want to waste my one action shot, only to have the witness show more expression later on. I finally made my shot, and sure enough, the witness became more animated. I glanced at the judge and squeezed off a second shot, fully expecting the judge to have me led out in handcuffs. But, he was too busy listening to the witness. So, I shot several more photos without consequence.

When they took a break before the next witness, I went up to the judge as he left the bench and asked him if we could talk about the limitations he had imposed upon me.
He looked a little startled. “Oh, yeah. You’re the Newsday photographer. I didn’t hear you take any pictures. How come?”

I said, “Judge, when you asked me to make the test shot, the courtroom was quiet and everyone’s attention was fixed on me. During the testimony, the witness was talking; the court stenographer was clacking her machine; people were coughing and clearing their throats; the 20/20 crew were walking all around the courtroom filming, and no one was paying any attention to me. I made my shots (I didn’t tell him how many) and you never heard me.”

He lifted the restrictions.

Dick Kraus



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