Daytime Courtroom Television: What Gives?
September 10, 2007 8:54 AM Subscribe
"Real" court case TV shows: what's in it for the parties involved, and the legal system in general?
Sorry in advance for the long post:
OK, I am aware that the parties on US daytime court shows (e.g., Judge Joe Brown, People's Court) are offered reimbursement of their court costs (and possibly expenses?) to have their case heard on these shows. I am also aware that these hearings bear little resemblance to real courtroom proceedings (what with the poorly-maintained order and adherence to procedure, moralizing asides and shoddy legal reasoning by the judges, etc.). But the other day I saw an episode that got me thinking.
In one case, the plaintiff disclosed that his son was in prison for possession of child pornography. The defendant disclosed that he himself had been in prison for molesting his own daughter. Neither disclosure had any relevance to the case (but of course were great for sensationalist television); in fact, the judge became very irate when the defendant dragged his feet about answering her question about why he was in prison. Which raises two questions for me:
1) Besides the covering of court costs, why would anyone, especially people who stand to suffer great embarassment and possibly a bad reputation, agree to broadcast their case on national television? Many of the parties in these cases do not appear to be too indigent to pay their own court costs; do they really want their "15 minutes" that badly, or is it safe to assume that someone who, say, molests their own daughter is just that inept at weighing the costs versus the benefits of going on TV?
2) More broadly, why does the legal system tolerate the portrayal of such obvious perversions of courtroom justice as legitimate? I can't imagine that any competent legal counsel in a real case would allow (without objection) a judge to moralize about a defendant's actions / character, extract irrelevant information (that would seem to be covered by the 5th amendment in many cases), or ignore principles like burden of proof / preponderance of evidence, and courtroom decorum / order. For that matter, I can't imagine any competent judge would behave like Judge Judy et al, without realizing that they are just handing the defense ammunition for an appeal. I realize that these are small claims cases that do not involve representation by attorneys, but why are these shows not illegal on the grounds that they don't constitute fair, competent legal proceedings? At the very least, why don't we hear more of an outcry from the legal community? Don't lawyers and judges get sick of having to explain to courtroom parties that "those things only happen on television?"