A high-profile, sensational criminal trial always contains elements that could result in a clash between the media and the judiciary.
Reporters, faced with intense competition and deadline pressures, want the judicial system to be open and unfettered. Judges, wanting to assure due process and to avoid a media circus and possible contamination of witnesses and jurors, want to restrain reporters and their conduct.The upcoming murder trial of members of the Singer clan could easily see the judge and the media at loggerheads. The trial will be conducted in a small, rural courthouse in Coalville. The media will descend in large numbers, each reporter trying for a scoop.
Thus, 3rd District Judge Michael R. Murphy, who will preside at the trial, is to be applauded for taking the initiative to resolve conflicts before they occur. He has set a precedent that ought to be emulated in other high-profile trials.
The judge drafted a proposed order governing conduct of the trial and distributed it to news organizations for comment. It covers such things as the number of reporters and photographers who may attend, issuance of press passes, seating, where interviews may be conducted, juror anonymity, and other topics.
About a dozen media organizations participated in a conference call in which the order was discussed and objections and problems were listed.
Then Randy Dryer, an attorney representing the Deseret News and other news media, met with Judge Murphy to iron out the differences. Both sides were cooperative and willing to compromise.
The result is a workable agreement under which both journalists and the judiciary should be able to perform their roles.
The most important part of this arrangement is not its details but the advance consultation and compromise between the court and the news media. Society depends on both a free press and fair trial. Judge Murphy is to be commended for engineering a plan that meets the needs of both.