COURTS & THE MEDIA

Advice to judges: Get to know reporters who cover you

To improve media coverage of courts, judges should talk to the reporters who cover them and explain what they do. That was the recommendation of four experts --- two former judges, a journalist and a media professor – at a recent CLE program sponsored by the ABA Judicial Division.

Judges often rely on reporters to translate their work for the public.

Judges often rely on reporters to translate their work for the public.

Audtakorn Sutarmjam / EyeEm / Getty Images

“When there is a new face in your courtroom whom you believe is a journalist, you ought to engage that person and have that person meet with you,” said Ben Holden, an associate professor of media at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. “Journalists are not hostile to you. They are mostly scared of screwing up.”

Dahlia Lithwick, a legal reporter for Slate, agreed, saying judges don’t often hold press conferences or give public briefings, so they rely on reporters to translate their work for the public. “It is better to help journalists get it right than to leave them to fend for themselves,” she said.

W. Terry Ruckriegle, a retired judge with the Colorado District Court, recommended that judges have brown-bag lunches with reporters or hold informal classes with judges and journalists. “The responsibility falls on the court to make sure that accurate information gets to those who report to the public,” Ruckriegle said.

The problem is exacerbated, Lithwick said, by the fact that many court reporters today have little experience covering the law. “The person who is covering your court this week was probably covering the weather last week and will be doing the school board next week,” she said.

Andre M. Davis, a former federal appeals court judge in Baltimore, paraphrased a recent speech by Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman in Washington, D.C.: “Judges really need to step up and be a lot more assertive, if not aggressive, in speaking directly through the media to the public about what courts do.”

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