by Max Brantley
The Arkansas Supreme Court today appointed a committee to review its rule on broadcasting court proceedings because of recent controversy over Circuit Judge Mary Ann Gunn's broadcast of drug court in Washington County.
It notes the Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee, led by UA law professor Howard Brill, had taken a dim view of Gunn's proceedings and the potential for continuing broadcast. Though participants are asked permission to be shown on TV, the advisory opinion noted the court is supposed to give people a clean start with clean records and that defendants might be afraid to go against the judge's desire to televise proceedings. An embarrassing past is hard to hide when it's part of a permanent video record. The local video production company that does the work also apparently has had at least some tentative discussions about national distribution. Gunn ignored the advisory opinion and has continued to hold court before cameras. Complaints over her decision have been filed with the Judicial Discipline and Disability Commission, which doesn't comment on its reviews of complaints until decisions are reached. Said the Supreme Court:
We note that there have been many advances in the technology related to broadcasting since this court adopted these provisions in 1993. In addition, the court has become aware that several limited and general jurisdiction courts in our state allow for the broadcasting of some or all of their proceedings. For this reason and others, we believe that Administrative Order Number 6 needs to be reviewed in light of current events and technology.
The court named TV journalist Steve Barnes, Spencer Fricke of Little Rock, Circuit Judge Gary Arnold of Benton, District Court Judge Fred Kirkpatrick of Harrison and Gary Nutter of Texarkana to study the issue and report.