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Famed rock producer's murder trial to be televised

By The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — The murder trial of rock 'n' roll producer Phil Spector will be televised, a judge has ordered, saying it is time for the justice system to get beyond the O.J. Simpson trial.

"We have to get by that case," Superior Court Judge Larry Paul Fidler said on Feb. 16. "There's going to come a time that it will be commonplace to televise trials. If it had not been for Simpson, we'd be there now."

The judge ruled on requests by electronic news media to allow gavel-to-gavel coverage. Fidler said only jury selection would not be televised.

Attorneys for Spector opposed cameras in the court, saying they would cause witnesses to act differently and might make jurors self-conscious in their role.

But Fidler said he believed he could control the situation, and if there was any negative fallout, "I can pull the plug at any time."

"Public scrutiny is a good thing," said the judge, adding that a televised trial would dispel the belief that celebrities are treated differently in court.

"The public gets to see that we try cases one way and that's it," he said.

Spector is accused of killing actress Lana Clarkson four years ago at his suburban Alhambra mansion. The 67-year-old record producer has pleaded not guilty and has been free on $1 million bail. Jury selection is scheduled to begin March 19.

The televised trial at which Simpson was acquitted of murdering ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman became a national phenomenon.

Fidler said that Simpson's judge, Lance Ito, is a close friend and he believed that Ito was wrongly blamed for the circus-like atmosphere of that trial.

"Judge Ito did not expect to turn on 'The Tonight Show' and see the Dancing Itos," Fidler said, referring to a satire that was repeated many times during the trial.

"I'm not too concerned we're going to be seeing the Flying Fidlers," he added. "It's not that kind of a case."

Fidler, 60, a veteran of the Los Angeles bench, said he realizes most judges do not share his views.

"I realize I'm in the minority of judges," said Fidler, who acknowledged he worked in broadcasting as a young man. "I don't see the cameras as evil. ... I firmly believe it is unfair to treat one form of the media differently than another."

Spector attorney Roger Rosen argued vehemently against televising the trial.

"It comes down to sensationalism and it's about the networks making money," he said.

Rosen said public interest can be satisfied by newspaper stories, reports on the Internet and regular TV news coverage.

"If there is a trend it's away from gavel-to-gavel coverage," he said. "It puts people in a position where everybody behaves differently."

Rosen argued that at Spector's age he is facing a possible life sentence and his rights should be paramount.

"To put a camera in the courtroom and have it operational from beginning to end creates a very dangerous situation," the defense attorney said.

Fidler said he struggled with the decision.

"Most judges would ask themselves, 'What's in it for me?' They don't want to have happen to them what happened to Judge Ito," he said.

Fidler said some believe the outcome of Simpson's trial was influenced by the camera.

"I do not believe that," he said.

Fidler added, "You expose yourself as a judge to greater scrutiny (by the cameras)."

But he said it is worth it because he believes it will be a learning experience for the American public.

"I want to teach people how it works. I think we have the best criminal justice system in the world in California," he said.

The judge said people's perception of the courts are molded by shows such as "CSI" and "Law & Order," which he says are inaccurate in their depiction of courtroom drama.

Fidler added that "protecting the sanctity of the trial is most important" and anything threatening that will be stopped immediately.

He acknowledged there is at least one lawyer in the case, Bruce Cutler of New York, who is flamboyant whether there is a camera present or not.

"I say that with great affection," Fidler said, but he added that every other lawyer in the case is "low key" and he expects no problems.

"If anyone is playing to the camera, I will call them on it," he said.

Spector produced such hit songs as "Be My Baby," "Da Doo Ron Ron" and "You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling."

Clarkson, 40, starred in Roger Corman's cult film "Barbarian Queen." She was a hostess at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip when she went home with Spector the night she was killed, police said. Authorities were called when a limousine driver heard a gun shot.


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Justice Kennedy to Congress: Don't allow cameras in high court
Meanwhile, several federal judges tell American Bar Association meeting that televising controversial trials would have benefited public. 02.15.07

Cameras in the courtroom

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