by Max Brantley
The drug court group, based in Alexandria, Va., thinks the show is misleading in depicting this as a drug court.
Like other court-based reality television shows, great lengths are taken to give viewers the impression that they are watching an official court in action. Teasers for Last Shot with Judge Gunn imply that the show is set in an actual Drug Court.
A press release dated September 13, 2011, states that “the show features Judge Mary Ann Gunn's drug court and the real-life consequences of individuals with criminal charges who are battling drug addiction and alcoholism.”
In fact, Last Shot with Judge Gunn does not broadcast Drug Court or any other official court proceedings.
The release notes a courtroom is used, but is rented from Washington County, and people depicted as probation officers and other court-related personnel are paid to play those roles. But the real objection is similar to my own — TV is not good therapy.
NADCP maintains that Drug Court professionals owe their primary, if not sole, allegiance to serving public safety and the needs of Drug Court participants. It is contrary to the Drug Court model for any decision, interaction or intervention to be influenced by extraneous considerations, including profit, entertainment value, television ratings, or publicity. Any effort to alter court proceedings for commercial aims contravenes the fundamental legal, ethical and clinical underpinnings of Drug Courts.
Furthermore, by leading the public to believe it is an official Drug Court, Last Shot with Judge Gunn potentially threatens the integrity of real Drug Courts in the public eye and undermines over two decades of unprecedented success.
In 2010, NADCP convened a national panel of experts in ethics, law, treatment and the recovery community to carefully consider the ethics, benefits and potential risks of televising Drug Court proceedings. NADCP’s Board of Directors concluded on the basis of these deliberations that any benefits that might accrue from broadcasting Drug Court proceedings are substantially outweighed by the potential for serious subsequent emotional, financial or legal harms to the participants and their families. Notably, both the Arkansas Judicial Ethics Advisory Committee and the Supreme Court of Arkansas reached a similar conclusion.
UPDATED TWICE: The producers of "Last Shot With Judge Gunn" have responded to the criticism, in part by saying the person responsible for distributing the criticism is just sore because Gunn didn't do a TV deal he proposed. He has since told me she has "badly misrepresented" a discussion they had. I'd also add that the producer's statement is not a response, except generally, to the state ethics panel, Arkansas Supreme Court, rehab agencies in Arkansas and numerous others who question putting people on TV and also question Gunn's handling of confidential medical records that came through her court.
LAST SHOT WITH JUDGE GUNN PRESS RELEASE:
Today West Huddleston, the CEO of a private organization called the National Association of Drug Court Professionals, issued a statement criticising a documentary television program, Last Shot with Judge Gunn, which will begin airing on Monday 9/26. Mr Huddleston admitted that he has not yet seen the program and unfortunately many of the statements he made are grossly inaccurate.
Importantly, Mr Huddleston also failed to disclose that last year he, in conjunction with a notable Hollywood actor, a Hollywood agent and a Hollywood production company, energetically pursued Judge Mary Ann Gunn to allow them to produce a television show . Judge Gunn rejected his proposals and instead made the decision to go with the producers of Last Shot with Judge Gunn.
Mr Huddleston's current efforts to undermine both "Last Shot with Judge Gunn" and the fine work that Judge Mary Ann Gunn has done, and will continue to do - administering a program which has helped countless individuals with serious drug addiction turn their lives around, a program which Mr Huddleston has previously publicly
recognized as being one of the finest in the country, is irresponsible.
Judge Gunn continues to strongly believe in and support the many drug courts throughout America which are also helping to change lives with this enlightened alternative to our revolving doors prison system. Judge Gunn's drug court was televised in Northwest Arkansas for six years without complaint. In 2008 West Huddleston presented Judge Gunn with the National Media Award for her televised drug court.
WEST HUDDLESTON RESPONDS:
* TALK OF A TV SHOW: "That's a pretty bad misrepresentation of what happened," he said. "We heard she was planning going national with a commercial style reality show. We didn't think it was a good idea nad still don't. I contacted her on several occasions in an attempt to steer her away from it and toward doing something that would raise awareness through national television but not use real drug court clients. Do it in a scripted way, with actors. ... She said she'd already worked out a deal with the production company she was working with and cut us off."
* THE AWARD GUNN RECEIVED: Huddleston noted that the award was given before the group had convened ethicists who decided that televising of drug court participants was not a sound idea. "We had not thought through the issue," he said. "We changed our mind." He noted, too, that Gunn's drug court was filmed "as is," not edited for dramatic effect for the local cable channel on which it appeared. "We also thought she was operating under the authority of the state Supreme Court to do so. When we found out she wasn't and when we brought together the group of ethicists, they came down clearly on the side that risks outweigh the potential good."
He added, "We did give her an award, but certainly not for the type of show she's doing now."