After the defamation trial between Depp and Heard was Televised, it has drawn millions of viewers to Penney Azcarate, the chief judge of Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia.
A low-key presence, Azcarate accepts or rejects evidence and occasionally tells witnesses to focus on the question. But perhaps the most significant decision Azcarate made was to allow Court TV to operate two pool cameras in the courtroom weeks before the trial.
There has been an increase in viewership as Law & Crime televised the entire Depp-Heard trial. Live viewership on its channel peaked at 1,247,163 for Depp’s testimony on Wednesday, more than twice the peak of his initial testimony in April. In recent weeks, mashups of Depp’s reaction shots have spread around the world, making trial clips unavoidable on social media.
In particular, testimony from Amber Heard, who claimed that Depp sexually assaulted and assaulted her to the point where she feared for her life, has been particularly graphic and upsetting for viewers.
On Thursday, in her final appearance on the stand, Heard said that reliving those moments in front of the cameras was “humiliating.” Actor Johnny Depp has denied Heard’s accusations and accused her of fabricating an elaborate hoax that shattered his career.
They tried to exclude the cameras from the trial, but they failed. Attorney Elaine Bredehoft told a pre-trial hearing on February 25 that the media and “fearful anti-Amber networks” were already interested in the case.
Bredehoft said, “What they’ll do is look at anything that’s unfavorable.” “They’ll take a statement out of context and play it over and over and over again.”
Depp’s lawyer, Ben Chew, welcomed the cameras. He claimed that Heard had already “trashed” Depp in the media and should not be allowed to hide at trial. Thus, Depp’s team accepted the trial with Heard being televised.
“Mr. Depp believes in transparency,” Chew said.
It was Azcarate’s duty to keep the proceedings open to the public, as she was receiving numerous media requests. She feared that if cameras weren’t allowed, the courthouse could become unsafe because of the presence of reporters.
“I don’t see any good cause not to do it,” Azcarate said.
Viewers can see all the evidence, evaluate the credibility of the witnesses, and make their own decisions now that news outlets are allowing gavel-to-gavel coverage. Azcarate’s decision, however, has some people concerned that it will also chill out victims of domestic violence.
Professor Michele Dauber of Stanford Law School said, “Allowing this trial to be televised is the single worst decision I can think of in the context of intimate partner violence and sexual violence in recent history.” “It has ramifications way beyond this case.”
Her clients often don’t even want their real names used in public court filings, according to an attorney who represents victims of sex offenses in high-profile cases. A Livestream broadcast is now a concern, and she fears that they’ll have to deal with that.
‘They see someone being taken apart in such a hateful way,’ she said. “Livestreaming it is really just a way to magnify what survivors are going through. I’m saddened and disgusted by how it is going to create a discourse of scaring people from seeking justice and speaking out about what they’ve been through.”
The trial judge in Virginia has near-total discretion over whether cameras are allowed in the courtroom. There are some exceptions to the rule, such as when “victims and families of sexual offenses” are testifying.
On February 25, Bredehoft argued that Heard was a victim of sexual assault and therefore cameras should not be allowed in the courtroom. When it came to civil cases, Azcarate found that the rule does not apply.
According to a number of attorneys who practice in Virginia courts, cameras are a rare sight. In the 2013 trial of Julio Blanco Garcia, who was convicted of murdering a 19-year-old woman, a Fairfax County judge allowed them. According to criminal defense attorney Joe King, that was an exception.
Charles Severance, a man tried and convicted of three murders in Fairfax County in 2015, was King’s client. Even though the case was well-known in the area, the judge refused to allow any broadcast coverage, allowing only still cameras instead. It’s also claimed that the judge rejected a media request to air a second Alexandria murder trial that he handled.
“It’s very exceptional in Virginia,” he said. “We’ve always objected to that. There is so much going on in a big trial. I don’t think lawyers need that distraction.”
There were no cameras allowed at the trial or sentencing of George Huguely, a former University of Virginia lacrosse player convicted of the murder of his ex-girlfriend, in Charlottesville in 2012. Court officials were concerned about possible jurors and witnesses being intimidated by the presence of cameras. Virginia’s Supreme Court upheld the lower court’s decision, despite media organizations’ appeals.
Huguely’s lawyer Rhonda Quagliana expressed concern that cameras would have made it more difficult for him to receive a fair trial. But she is not opposed to cameras in all cases.
For her, it is an impossible balancing act to watch the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer convicted of the murder of George Floyd. In this case, cameras in the courtroom were used to their full potential. That trial was important for people to see. They expected to see a well-run court system.
Fairfax attorney Lawrence McClafferty has been trying a case down the hall from the Depp-Heard trial and has seen Depp’s fans waiting outside each day for a glimpse at the actor. According to him, the commonwealth is unlikely to face a similar situation at any point in the near future.
“Virginia is a conservative place,” he said. “We’re not used to cameras, and it can be intrusive and distracting, and one more thing for a judge to have to worry about. I don’t think we’re going to see a lot more of it.”
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