The media scrum surrounding high-profile court cases is a stock scene in American life, and the reason is pretty simple. Most of us view the work of the justice system through the reporting of those who cover it, and seeing what courts do is the only real way to judge whether they are doing their job.
That fundamental principle was apparently lost during a recent court hearing about New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson, when security officials took the unusual move of barring media representatives from the Louisiana Supreme Court building in the French Quarter.
The building also houses the 4th Circuit Court of Appeal, which was holding a hearing in an ongoing dispute between Benson and some members of his family about his mental and physical capacity to make decisions about his business affairs.
A judge hearing the case had ordered the courtroom closed, but security officials took the unusual step of barring reporters from the entire building. A Supreme Court spokeswoman later said that security officials went against the court’s official policies in barring media from the courthouse.
If there’s a Barney Fife Award for Official Incompetence, then the courthouse security officers who pitched media professionals into the street must surely be among the top contenders for the prize. It was clearly overkill, limiting reporters not only in covering the Benson case, but any other court matters in the building.
Scott Sternberg, an attorney for the Louisiana Press Association, raises another good point: “I don’t know if the people who are enforcing this rule could’ve determined who was part of the media and who was not, especially today, with bloggers and folks who have access to thousands of Twitter followers.”
We hope this kind of carte blanche blockade of reporters from the state’s highest court doesn’t happen again. Although justice is supposed to be blind, it can’t work if the public at large is also blind to its operations.