Stanislaus County (Calif.) Superior Court Judge Al Girolami has banned cameras and recording devices from the preliminary hearing of murder suspect Scott Peterson. The Aug. 18, 2003, ruling does not bar reporters from the courtroom, but forbids any sort of broadcast, tape recording or still photography of the proceedings.
Defense attorneys appealed Girolami's earlier decision to open the preliminary hearing to the public. An appeals court upheld Girolami's decision on Aug. 27.
Peterson is accused of killing his wife, Laci, who was pregnant with the couple's first child, and dumping her body into the San Francisco Bay.
In denying media requests to televise or otherwise record the hearing, Girolami said he did not want to turn his courtroom into "Reality TV," according the San Francisco Chronicle.
"It involves the victims' families, who will be forced to relive their worst nightmare in a very public way, which unfortunately is necessary to the process. Televising these passionate proceedings is not, however, necessary to the process," Girolami wrote in a six-page ruling.
The ruling stemmed from media requests in July to open Peterson's preliminary hearing, in which evidence supporting the charge against Peterson likely will be discussed.
"At stake is public confidence in a judicial system that abhors taking evidence in secret and assumes that any member of the public may be present to observe its operation," attorneys representing a coalition of media outlets argued, according to Reuters.
The newspapers' requests were joined by requests from broadcasters. News outlets, including Court TV and CNN, had argued for cameras in the proceedings. Both the prosecution and defense, as well as Scott Peterson's family and Laci Peterson's family, opposed televising the proceedings. They cited concerns over the emotional impact on family members, as well as the fear that the presence of cameras would affect the conduct of the proceedings.
In arguing against allowing broadcast media in the courtroom, Peterson's attorneys stated that closing the preliminary hearing would help prevent prejudice against Peterson, CNN.com reported. They added that opening the hearing would defeat the purpose of a gag order the court imposed earlier to calm the widespread media attention paid to the case. CNN's report is available online at http://www.cnn.com/2003/LAW/08/11/Peterson.exam/index.html.