‘Top 10 Tips’ for Idaho judges

At the recent 2008 Idaho Judicial Conference, more than 100 Idaho judges from around the state participated in a session on media/court issues, ranging from cameras in the courtroom to access to court records to handling high-visibility cases.

As part of the program, Betsy Russell, president of IDOG and president of the Idaho Press Club, and Marc Johnson, former reporter, former chief of staff for Gov. Cecil Andrus and now with Gallatin Public Affairs, presented a list of “Top 10 Tips” for judges to keep in mind when dealing with reporters. Here they are:

10) Always, always return a call from a reporter

9) Understand deadlines

8) Give cameras in the courtroom a try – in Idaho it’s been a great success and leads to greater public understanding

7) Be willing to explain, educate and inform – some reporters need it and you can offer it

6) If you can’t comment, direct the reporter to someone who might comment

5) Point reporters to the Media Guide and use it yourself

4) Courts and court records need to be open – exceptions should be rare and subject to established procedures

3) Know the rules – when talking to a reporter you are always on the record unless you both agree otherwise in advance

2) Campaigns are news – even for judges. Expect and answer questions.

And the No. 1 tip for judges to keep in mind when dealing with reporters:

1. It’s not an accident that it is the “First” Amendment – think “first” before sealing a document or closing a proceeding.

The presentation was well-received, and the judges were thoughtful, engaged and constructive in their comments and questions. In addition to the “Top 10 Tips,” the panel included a discussion of the Idaho State Judiciary Media Guide, an online guide that includes extensive information for reporters about how Idaho’s court system works, how to submit a Cameras in the Courtroom request, which records are open and how to get them, etc.

The media guide, as Judge Ralph Savage told the assembled members of the judiciary, also can be highly useful for judges, with such features as tips from other states on how to handle high-visibility cases and successfully coordinate plans to meet the needs of the media. The presentation also included the airing and discussion of taped “interviews” Johnson conducted with three Idaho judges, playing the role of an aggressive reporter as each was put on the spot to respond to a fictitious, but likely, scenario.

Other members of the panel included Trial Court Administrator Burt Butler, who discussed cameras in the courtroom and other media issues, and Judge Jeff Brudie, who discussed recent changes to Rule 32, the rule that governs when court records can be sealed. The rule strictly limits the circumstances under which records can be sealed, but the change allows a temporary sealing to preserve the right to a fair trial, such as when a confession is sealed prior to jury selection. Those documents then would be unsealed when that’s no longer an issue, such as once jury selection is completed.

Check out the Idaho State Judiciary Media Guide online at https://www.isc.idaho.gov/mguide/.

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