by Max Brantley
Though a number of production details remain hazy, work continues on the syndicated TV show planned by former Circuit Judge Mary Ann Gunn, who resigned from the bench so she could create the show modeled on her drug court in Fayetteville. It became controversial after legal opinions, eventually underscored by a state Supreme Court order, frowned on televising drug court, a place where violators supposedly head for a fresh start. Enduring TV images of their past troubles don't seem to fit with that goal, much as TV viewers might enjoy the sordid tales. Open to question, too, is the whole idea of whether being on TV is a therapeutically sound idea. The local press, which has lionized the judge for trooping hardluck cases through local living rooms, doesn't seem to have given that question much thought. Gunn has self-proclaimed her program the most successful drug court going, but others in the field have different views.
Thanks to Norma Bates for noting the trailer above, posted on YouTube Aug. 3. It says the show will premiere, somewhere, on Sept. 26. We've been trying, so far without success, to find out if an on-again, off-again commitment by the Department of Community Correction to send offenders for "rehab" by TV to the commercial production is on again. There are also differing reports about whether social service agencies have agreed to participate by providing TV show fodder. Gunn indicated in one newspaper interview that she had plans to use a small amount of video from her drug court days, though she has also said each episode would focus on one person with problems, with drugs and the law, similar to those who'd been in her real court. Unclear is what legal hammer, other than expulsion from TV, the TV judge will hold over such participants.
Legal questions remain as to commercial rights of the video made when Gunn was a judge. The Jones Trust, which controls Jones TV, which did the filming, said through a spokesman that it has secured digital copies of the programs and is awaiting legal and court guidance. The use of the courthouse, court records and other issues have caused something of a stir in the Fayetteville legal community (including a lawsuit by former drug court participants to protect their identities). There was also a stink, unreported in the local media, because Gunn took drug court records when she left office, reportedly including medical and psychological evaluations of those in court. They were returned to the courthouse after another judge objected, my sources say.
I've tried for some time without success to talk to producers of the show, which has a Facebook page up and running and lots of fans eagerly awaiting more tales of woe.
UPDATE: The original lawsuit over court videos and records was dismissed and refiled in the name of two former participants who object to how the recordings were made and who seek sealing of videos and the court records. It says some footage from past courts have been used in promotional video on the Internet for the new TV show.