Judge Ito Pulls Plug _ Briefly _ on Final Arguments
NEW YORK (AP) _ Judge Lance Ito briefly cut off courtoom TV coverage of closing arguments in the O.J. Simpson murder trial Tuesday, testily complaining that the camera’s closeup could reveal Simpson’s handwritten notes.
An hour later, Ito relented and allowed the camera to be turned back on, but only after levying a $1,500 fine against the Radio & Television News Association, which supervised the live coverage, for causing a disruption of prosecutor Marcia Clark’s presentation.
``It’s the only excitement we’ve had all day,″ Kent Dana, an anchor at KPNX-TV, the NBC affiliate in Phoenix, said at Camp O.J., the media encampment outside the courthouse.
Ito made his startling ruling just after Clark spoke about the bleeding cut on Simpson’s hand _ which the prosecution contends he received during the murders _ and the camera panned in on the defendant’s hands writing busily at the defense table.
As the camera was turned off, Cynthia McFadden of ABC-TV stood and asked, ``Your honor, will you hear argument on the issue?″ Ito snapped, ``Sit down!″
The judge then strode from the bench with a copy of the videotape in his hand to meet in chambers with media lawyer Kelli Sager and attorneys from both sides.
Back in open court, Ito told Sager he was ``annoyed″ with the camera zooming in on Simpson’s notes.
``Perhaps your eyes are better than mine,″ Sager replied. ``I couldn’t make anything out on the legal pad.″
Ito suggested a fine of $10,000, which Sager called excessive, reminding the judge that misconduct fines on attorneys in the case never exceeded $950.
``We’re disappointed in the judge’s decision,″ said Sylvia Teague, president of the RTNA. ``The pool photographer had no intent to violate the court order on what could be shot. ... We’re disappointed that Judge Ito thought it was appropriate to fine the media at all. He has ruled that we have to pay the fine and we will pay the fine.″
In agreeing to turn the camera back on, Ito ordered the operator not to photograph anyone at the counsel tables below the shoulders. He even praised the operator’s work up to this point, saying, ``You’ve done a heck of a job so far.″
``I agree that the transgression was benign in its intent,″ Ito said.
Ito has used his ``kill switch″ prerogative over the courtroom camera before, first in January, when the operator inadvertently broadcast the face of an alternate juror, and again last week when he barred coverage of the testimony of two mob-linked brothers to protect their identities.