This week’s Sounding Board, left to right: Kim Hunter, Amy Koch, John Lesch, Erick Kaardal, John Kaul
This week’s topics: Cameras in court; public defender flap; cheerleader’s SCOTUS win
Query 1: Fears that cameras would disrupt the Derek Chauvin trial never materialized, retired Judge Kevin Burke and OLA counsel Elizabeth Stawicki wrote for the Pioneer Press Thursday. More cameras would give citizens greater knowledge of and confidence in the court system, they argue. Others think that’s a bad idea. Where are you at on cameras in court, post-Chauvin?
Kim Hunter, immigration attorney: I have very mixed feelings about it. I wish I had a strong answer one way or the other. I think cameras were absolutely necessary for Chauvin. But then, I don’t know where you draw the line. Because then you start to get into issues about protecting victims, etcetera, etcetera. So, yeah. That’s for people wiser than me.
Amy Koch, former GOP Senate majority leader: I’m not a lawyer and I’m not judge. I’ve never actually been in a court during a trial, I just have watched. I would always fall on more cameras would be better. The only hesitancy I have is thinking back to the O.J. [Simpson] trial and the total circus that was, and how lawyers and judges became the personalities. It became like a reality TV show. I think it’s not how many cameras, but how it’s used. I don’t know if you can control the narrative on that—sometimes you’d have a circus. I compare it to the legislature, which is also high profile and can be a circus, yet there are cameras everywhere all the time. I’m like, so what? Of course, you have cameras.
John Lesch, attorney, former DFL House Judiciary chair: It’s an inevitability, there’s no question. There is going to be a demand for it. The increasing technology, plus the general expectations of the public that everything that happens should be on camera, I think, will force public policy, as well as the judiciary, into a position where more proceedings will be on video. Maybe not all. But it’s an inevitability, just based upon public expectations. I think that, yes, in the Chauvin trial issues didn’t materialize. That’s not to say that issues couldn’t materialize in other trials. But until that happens, we’re going to see more cameras.
Erick Kaardal, government watchdog attorney: I think that it was amazing that the cameras were in the courtroom and benefited the public greatly. These are public events and they should be broadcast, probably.
John Kaul, photographer, retired long-time lobbyist: Well, there is O.J. [Simpson] and there is Chauvin. I favor transparency. I think especially people of color could see it as an instance where the system worked.
[Editor’s note: Derek Chauvin will be sentenced for George Floyd’s killing today at 1:30 p.m. today. Those proceedings will be live-streamed here.]
Query 2: Ex-Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty is a fiery, outspoken champion of racial justice, but she was suspended and reprimanded for “fractured relationships” with criminal justice leaders. She accused the Public Defense Board of racism and sexism; the board rebuked her as disruptive. Avoiding a lawsuit, the board has settled with her for $300,000 and she has agreed to retire. What do you make of all this?
Hunter: First of all, it’s hard to see “disruptive” and not read it as “uppity female,” right? Legit, she has had a long career in public service. If this is the decision she wants to make, I don’t think I am one to question it.
Koch: It just seems to me like she’s someone who sort of thrives on being the rabble rouser, even with people who are on her side. We have those in politics, too, people who are more about themselves than about the actual causes that they profess to support. I respect the passion. I’m on her side. But sometimes it’s like, what are the tactics and what are you accomplishing?
Lesch: It’s a personality conflict that is rooted, I think, in personal politics. It probably was the best thing for everyone involved to just sever that relationship. It’s been fiery for years. You can’t have a high-profile, let alone a chief public defender publicly at odds with the Board of Public Defense or the state public defender. That’s absolutely what happened. And so, I think it’s best that all those parties just put it behind them with that settlement.
Kaardal: I think that racial justice is a sign of the times. The discussion is long overdue and we’re going to have difficulties reconciling the different claims made in the context of racial justice. This is more evidence of that. Mary Moriarty has made a contribution to the discussion and I hope she continues making a contribution in private practice.
Kaul: The only thing I could say is that I don’t doubt there is a lot of racism everywhere. She may be right. There’s probably an awful lot of racism everywhere in our society.
Query 3: The U.S. Supreme Court decided 8-1 this week that a school district went too far by punishing a high school cheerleader for posting vulgar remarks and gestures on social media after she got rejected for the varsity squad. It’s the first time in 52 years that a high schooler has won a First Amendment case. Do you feel like the justices got this one right?
Hunter: I think they got it right, for the same reason that I cringe at employers trolling people’s social media and private lives, right? I mean there is a certain reality that we deal with, with the technology that’s at hand. For this student, her marketplace of ideas is social media. So she should be allowed to express herself there, absolutely.
Koch: Yeah, they did. Good for the cheerleader! The school has overstepped. Everybody is entitled to free speech and it can look like things we don’t like. I mean, she flicked people off. Oh well. Suck it up, school district! Stop bossing people around. I’m totally with the cheerleader on this one.
Lesch: I think they did. The nature of what people are doing, including stuff they’re doing on social media, has fundamentally changed the landscape of public discourse. And so if they decided it the other way, I think it would actually have had greater implications for the First Amendment that would have been unanticipated. I’m not saying it was a perfect decision. But, yes, I think they got it right on this one.
Kaardal: I agree with the decision. The justices got it right. The courts are going to need to really fulfill their role of protecting the people from overzealous government action and this is evidence of that. I think the 8-1 decision, although not unanimous, shows that the courts are beginning to understand that role that it has. There have to be limits to government sort of going after the people. This case would set a limit.
Kaul: I guess that’s consistent with free speech. The court has made a couple of decisions lately that have surprised me—like the [June 17] Obamacare ruling. This would be another one. The Supreme Court has surprised me twice in a week with good decisions.