The Work

July 7, 2008 3:21 PM

Countrywide Seeks to Bar Cameras from Courtroom in Racial Discrimination Case

Posted by Andrew Longstreth

Countrywide, the public's piƱata of the subprime mortgage crisis, doesn't need more adverse publicity. So it's no wonder that its lawyers at Goodwin Procter have vigorously opposed a motion to allow cameras in a federal courtroom in Massachusetts where the company and various entities have been sued for racial discrimination in connection to its mortgage products.

Last month Courtroom View Network, represented by Boies, Schiller & Flexner, asked U.S. district court judge Nancy Gertner to allow its cameras into her courtroom for a July 9 argument on Countrywide's motion to dismiss. [Download Courtroom View Network's motion.] Despite the opposition of the Judicial Conference (the federal judiciary's policy-making body) to cameras in federal courtrooms, the Boies team--led by Jonathan Sherman--asserts that local rules permit individual judges to make exceptions. Moreover, the brief argues, the Conference's concern that televised proceedings undermine the courts' credibility, is outdated. That position was first articulated during the media circus surrounding O.J. Simpson's criminal trial in 1995, but in the Internet age, when information is more likely to be consumed by targeted audience segments, such fears are not necessarily warranted, the Boies Schiller lawyers argued.

"[T]hose concerns were born in the era just before the Internet shifted the tectonic plates underlying information gathering and exchange," they wrote. "The Internet provides a forum for news gathering entities such as CVN to cover cases of less interest to the general public--by definition, presenting less risk of sensationalism--but much more interest to constituents that have uniquely particularized stakes in the proceedings, and which seek accurate and complete information about court proceedings."

Boies Schiller partner Jonathan Sherman knows a good deal about the debate over cameras in the courtroom. As a third-year associate at Cahill Gordon, working under First Amendment pro Floyd Abrams, he represented CourtTV [then a corporate sibling of The American Lawyer] in its effort to televise the O.J. proceedings in Judge Lance Ito's courtroom. Sherman recently teamed up with name partner David Boies in a failed attempt to overturn the ban on cameras in New York state courts.

In Countrywide's response last week to the Boies Schiller motion, Goodwin disputed Sherman's argument that local rules allows CVN to record the July 9 argument. [Download Countrywide's opposing brief.] "Cameras and recording equipment have never been permitted in any courtroom in this district for other than ceremonial proceedings," the Goodwin lawyers wrote. They also took issue with CVN's claims that it serves the public good, arguing that CVN, by its own admission, seeks only to provide coverage to paying subscribers. "There is no 'public interest' here, and CVN's commercial no reason to undo this district's long-standing policy against courtroom cameras."

We'll update this story as soon as we hear from Judge Gertner.

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