Score one for the First Amendment. And while we’re at it, score one for up-and-coming District Court Judge Rob Bare.
Few people were allowed to see the epic confrontation of legal titans that played out over the past few days in a local courtroom, but it was every bit as tense and exciting as any fictional drama.
On one side was legendary Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has defended some of the most famous (and infamous) clients in American legal history, including the likes of Michael Jackson and Claus von Bulow, but who is best known for his passionate defense of the Constitution itself. In particular, Dershowitz has been seen as a crusader for the First Amendment rights of the news media, including the right of TV news outfits to have cameras in the courtroom.
But in the legal fight that just concluded, Dershowitz found himself in the unusual position of arguing against the legal standards he has done so much to protect. He had to explain to Judge Bare why cameras should be barred from the courtroom in a massive civil lawsuit filed against Sheldon Adelson.
On the other side was a local legal titan who’s likewise championed media freedom and has defended many of the best-known Nevada scribes (including Knappster). Former federal prosecutor Don Campbell was hired by the Review-Journal for what might seem a counterintuitive assignment: to defend the right of the RJ’s competitors — namely KLAS Channel 8 and KTNV Channel 13 — to have a camera in the courtroom to record the proceedings, including any testimony by Adelson.
Oh, it was grand. Every time Dershowitz opened his mouth, legal poetry spilled out. The guy is so smooth, so persuasive, that by the time he finished his initial presentation, he almost had me convinced that poor Mr. Adelson shouldn’t have his life put in danger just to satisfy the prurient, sometimes salacious interests of a commercial enterprise like TV news. Damned TV vultures, I muttered.
It took Campbell about five minutes to demolish Adelson’s position. He began with a mellifluous quotation about the importance of having TV cameras in a courtroom because the cameras are the most objective observers of all. They show the public what truly unfolds in a courtroom, free of the bias that inevitably creeps into any prose. Campbell then informed the court that the flowery words he’d been quoting had been spoken a few years earlier by none other than Alan Dershowitz. There were many more arguments and points to be made, including some presumably dramatic stuff behind closed doors, in which Adelson’s security experts tried to convince the court that Adelson’s life would be in danger from anti-Israeli extremists or lefty radicals if his face were shown on camera, but for my money, the debate was over the second that Campbell identified Dershowitz as the source of the quotation.
Judge Bare showed he was up to the challenge. He asked pointed, penetrating questions, allowed both sides to have their say, demonstrated that he had done his homework and, in the end, made the right decision. He declared that there is no better way to allow the public to have confidence in its judicial system than for TV cameras to show the proceedings, free of any censorship by rich guys.
It also helped the media position to learn that the supposedly camera-shy Adelson gives TV interviews on a regular basis, appears at public events where TV cameras are present, including UNLV events and the GOP convention, and that his video image can be found 6,000 or more times on Google. Terrorists would have little trouble figuring out what he looks like.
Check out coverage of the upcoming trial. Adelson already lost this case once. A court awarded one of his former partners nearly $60 million; the civil verdict was overturned by the Nevada supremes because of an improper jury instruction. That’s why the retrial is happening. The appeal has taken years and probably rang up massive legal bills, but when you are one of the world’s richest men, you can afford to bleed opponents by dragging things out.
And while I often find myself at odds with the editorial positions of the RJ, the newspaper really stepped up to the plate on this one and deserves props from everyone in journalism for taking on such a powerful adversary on behalf of a couple of competitors and a little thing called the Bill of Rights.
My pal Ian Russell says he’s surprised that state Sen. Mike Roberson didn’t wake up to find a horse’s head in his bed this week because of the public spanking he administered to water boss Pat Mulroy. My guess is that no one has talked to Mulroy like that since her daddy took her out to the woodshed. As reported here, Roberson wants to put Mulroy’s out-of-control water agencies (Southern Nevada Water Authority and the Las Vegas Valley Water District) under some additional control, namely the Public Utilities Commission. At a legislative hearing this week, Mulroy rolled out her usual doom-and-gloom speech, how the entire Earth will be burned to a cinder, dogs and cats will sleep together and the solar system will be sucked into a black hole if Roberson’s bill passes. Finally, after years and years of this boogity-boogity, scare-tactic horseshit, someone had the balls to call her on it. Lo and behold, lightning did not strike down the blasphemer. I have a feeling that Roberson’s courage might embolden others to step forward. I smell blood in the water. … The case of the former Nevada inmate who served 21 years for a crime he did not commit and might now have to serve more time in Florida has caught the attention of Gov. Brian Sandoval, whose staff is looking into it. Also, state Sen. Tick Segerblom is writing a letter on behalf of the inmate, Fred Steese.
GEORGE KNAPP is a Peabody Award-winning investigative reporter for KLAS Channel 8. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.