On Watch

The Ups and Downs of Court Reporting

Posted: Oct 12, 2012 1:47 PM ET Last Updated: Oct 12, 2012 1:47 PM ET
Covering the courts can sometimes be unpleasant.
Over the years, I've been spit at (they missed) and called scum, bottom feeder and a whole bunch of names I can't reprint here.
It comes with the territory.  Emotions are frequently raw at court; egos and feelings are bruised and worlds are turned upside-down.  And the media are there to record all of that.  We will take your picture.  We will ask you questions.  We have a right and a responsibility to do that.  But we will not prevent you from going about your business.  We aren't allowed.  There are lines -- literally -- at every courthouse that we cannot cross.
But sometimes, members of the public cross that line.  It happened again this week, as you can see in the image accompanying this blog.  That's a member of Chaze Thompson's family, shoving our cameraman.  He did it moments after his relative was confirmed as a cold-blooded killer.  Chaze Thompson murdered Sergei Kostin, an innocent man.  To date, Thompson has offered no explanation and shown no remorse. 
His family chose to react to the news by lashing out.
Fortunately, our cameraman wasn't injured.  His gear was damaged.  Photographers and camera people are much worse-off than reporters: the tools of their trade make them more conspicuous, and therefore, more vulnerable to people who feel the need to vent.
There is a much easier way to avoid the cameras at court: simply make sure you and your family members don't commit any serious crimes.
Not all courthouse encounters are so unpleasant.  Some are just surreal.
A few years ago I was in Supreme Court.  I don't remember the name of the accused, or the charges he was facing.  I just remember he was a member of one of the violent gangs which, at the time, were fighting for control of the city's drug trade.
I chose a seat at the very front of the courtroom so that I could hear what the judge and lawyers were saying.  I immediately regretted my seating choice when I realized the sheriff's deputies had chosen the chair right in front of me as the prisoner's bench.   It was too late.  I could hear the familiar click of handcuffs being removed in the hall outside. 
A large young man with tattoos on both arms came into the courtroom and made straight for me.  He plunked down in the seat just inches from me and turned to stare.  Then he spoke.
"Is it true Jim Nunn is retiring?"
It took me a moment to process the question because it came from so far out in left field.
When I confirmed it was true, the gang member replied: "That's too bad.  I like him."  Then he turned back to face the front of the courtroom.
Imagine my relief.
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About the Author

Blair Rhodes has been a journalist for more than 30 years in Atlantic Canada, covering everything from princes to politicians to prostitutes, and a whole lot of stuff in between. These days, he focusses on stories involving crime and public safety.

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