Making a Bad Situation Worse in Chicago
I wouldn't know R. Kelly if the singer came up to me and handed me his CDs. And quite frankly I really didn't intend to follow closely his child pornography case which is apparently based upon a videotape of Kelly allegedly having sex with a girl who was 13 or 14 at the time. It's just not my kind of case.
But that has changed somewhat in light of a disappointing ruling today by a Chicago judge who intends to show the videotape to the public in open court during Kelly's trial over the objections of both defense attorneys and prosecutors. That's right. If you get to court early enough that day, you'll be able to see free child pornography courtesy of the Illinois state courts.
Cook County Criminal Court Judge Vincent Gaughan says he is going to allow the tape to be played in open court because it "is the whole crux and linchpin of the case. If there was no tape, we wouldn't have a case... I find there is not an overarching interest for excluding the public and the press from the portion of the trial that is the linchpin." Of course, that rationale has not stopped scores of judges all over America recently from withholding from public view evidence that is vital for both the government and defendants in criminal cases, especially in terrorism cases, based upon the flimsiest of arguments offered by federal prosecutors.
Now, you could argue, as many of my journalist friends will, that Judge Gaughan has got it right. That if and when judges err they should err on the side of conducting more of their trials in the open. But whomever is on that tape with Kelly deserves better than to have her worst nightmare played out in front of anyone and everyone in open court. The easy and smart choice here would have been to allow the video to be played to the jury and perhaps to a group of pool reporters, who then could report on what they observed to the rest of us. Courtrooms are sealed off all the time when sensitive information is offered at trial. And this courtroom could have been as well. This is a ruling that turns a trashy tabloid case into an even more sorry tale of how the legal system can sometimes take a bad situation and make it worse.
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