ACLU Condemns Judge's Gag Order on Televising Trial of Sara Jane Olson

January 11, 2000 12:00 am

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LOS ANGELES — The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California today condemned a judge’s decision to bar television and radio coverage of the trial of Sara Jane Olson, who is accused of plotting to plant pipe bombs under Los Angeles police vehicles during the 1970’s.

Media organizations, including CNN and Court TV, along with Olson’s defense team, had requested that the trial, scheduled to begin in February, be televised. But Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James M. Ideman denied the request, saying, according to news accounts, “I believe, along with most of my colleagues, that televising trials can be a bad thing. I’m ag’in it. I admit my bias.”

“Judge Ideman’s decision to deny television and radio coverage of the forthcoming trial of Sara Jane Olson is both short-sighted and extremely unfortunate,” said First Amendment attorney Douglas Mirell, a member of the ACLU of Southern California’s board of directors. “The press and public have a right to observe the judicial process. In particular, California’s constitution guarantees that both the defendant and the people have the right to a public trial.”

“It is especially problematic,” Mirell added, “for Judge Ideman to have denied the media’s request to televise these proceeding in the face of Olson’s support for such TV coverage. After the passage of so many decades, Olson is entitled to try to clear her name and vindicate herself before the world.”

The judge said that cameras in the courtroom change the way witnesses and lawyers act. Judge Ideman also said that he based his reluctance to televise the trial on the effect it might have on the prosecution’s key witness, Patricia Hearst Shaw. He indicated he was reluctant to have Shaw relive her experiences, including claims of rape and torture, on live television.

“Patty Hearst Shaw has told her story countless times, in magazines, books and on television,” said Ramona Ripston, Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California. “Had this judge been truly concerned with blocking Ms. Hearst’s painful tale from cameras, he could have held that part of the trial in private. His personal bias against televising courtroom proceedings is hardly a legitimate reason to block the entire trial from being seen by an interested public.”

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