EUGENE, Ore. -- In seven years working at the Lane County courthouse, the county's next top cop doesn't remember ever seeing a television camera in a courtroom.
"Not in my memory," said Alex Gardner, district attorney-elect for Lane County (at left). "If it has been done in the last 20 years, I don't know about it."
The acting court administrator Elizabeth Rambo can't remember a time when cameras were allowed in a courtroom, either.
But cameras are routinely allowed in courts in neighboring Linn, Douglas, Coos and Benton counties.
And the Uniform Trial Court Rules adopted by the Oregon Supreme Court say cameras shall be allowed in courtrooms like those in Lane County. The rules say a judge may deny a request for public access coverage only if the judge finds fact - on the record - for the denial.
In practice, Lane County has a reputation for keeping cameras out of the courtroom.
"Everyone frankly on the media side as far as I can tell is a bit mystified as to why Lane County has not joined with the rest of the counties in allowing cameras in the courts," said Therese Bottomly, a managing editor at The Oregonian.
That leaves cameras no closer to the courtroom than here:
Presiding Judge Mary Ann Bearden said in a letter that cameras are allowed in Lane County courtrooms but that she rarely receives timely requests. Bearden declined to be interviewed on camera for this story.
"The court rarely receives timely requests for camera access," she wrote. "A good recent example would be a high profile murder trial with a lot of public interest. This was the type of trial wherein a request for one media pool camera might have been made, but no request was made until almost the end of the trial, at which point the request was very untimely, would have caused delay, and would have been disruptive to the proceedings; that request had to be denied."
KVAL News asked the judge's office and court administrator to describe a process for making timely requests. Neither described a process.
"There are some people who believe cameras in the court room are distracting," Gardner said. "I haven't found that to be the case at all. In my experience they tend to forget the cameras are there."
A judge in Roseburg, Ore., thinks Lane County's courts might be behind the time when it comes to cameras.
"I have never once found them to be a problem," said Judge William Lasswell (at right), himself a former district attorney. "They are not a distraction to me and I have never had a juror or witness tell me they were bothersome."
Judge Lasswell said he has never denied camera access to courts in his 21 years as a judge in Oregon.
"Lane County courts have always been more conservative and traditional than ours," he said. "They expect a judge to conduct himself in a way that is maybe like judges did in the 40s and 50s."
KPIC TV news in Roseburg has covered court cases with a camera for almost two decades, like the case involving Gabe Riley, accused of murdering his mother and severly wounding his father. The image below is a screen capture from TV camera footage of a court hearing in that case.
News director Dan Bain (at right) covered the trial.
"I have never noticed anybody testifying any differently or pandering to a camera," Bain said. "I've never seen that in the years I've been in a courtroom.
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