Florida State Attorney and special prosecutor Angela Corey praised journalists during the news conference in which she announced that George Zimmerman has been charged with murder in the second degree for the February 26th shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.
“It is regrettable that so many facts and details got released and misconstrued,” Corey said Wednesday evening. “But we hope that — and the media has helped, toning it down a lot and making sure that people understand Florida law and the process. And we hope that people will continue to do that.”
On CNN, legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin noted that Florida’s Sunshine laws mean cameras in the courtroom for Zimmerman’s trial.
“This trial will be a trial by television,” Toobin said.
If there is a trial and no change of venue, Zimmerman will be tried in Seminole County, which neighbors Orlando, where the trial of Casey Anthony led Ninth Circuit Court Judge Belvin Perry to seal jurors’ names for a three-month “cooling-off” period after the not guilty verdict was reached. In his ruling to protect the jurors’ identities from an intensely interested public, Perry wrote:
Basically, court proceedings are no longer news but entertainment. Florida’s public records laws were never intended to further the media’s (as opposed to now old-fashioned news organization’s) bottom line. … Unquestionably, use of Florida public records laws by the media (in general and not just intervenors here) has become simply a tool to sell a story. It is time that Florida’s public records laws recognize this fact and steps be taken to examine whether the laws are too broad and whether the release of certain information is causing more harm…
The judge assigned the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman case is likely to call Judge Perry, said lawyer Alison Steele, who represents the Poynter Institute and the Tampa Bay Times. Steele agrees with Perry that there are some cases “that devolve into theater, where people punch it up like they punch up ‘Dancing with the Stars.’ ” But that is no reason to restrict the public’s access to the trial, which requires cameras in the courtroom.
“This is an incredibly important case to Florida. It’s an incredibly important case to the nation,” Steele said by phone Wednesday night. “It’s important that it’s happening in a state that has such broad Sunshine rules. There are people who are not watching this as entertainment. They’re watching it to find out what’s going on in our judicial system. Is everyone behaving? Is everyone performing their jobs in a way that the people they serve — and that’s us, the public — approve of?”
Despite the presence of cameras, Steele said, this will not be a trial by television, it will be “a trial by jury, and it’s important that whatever the outcome is people have the ability to observe and understand it. That’s the only way the judicial system has credibility.”