New York Times
January 9, 2002


Sept. 11 Terror Suspect Backs Effort to Televise His Trial


By DAVID JOHNSTON

ALEXANDRIA, Va -- A lawyer for Zacarias Moussaoui, the first person charged with complicity in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, said at a hearing in federal court today that Mr. Moussaoui supported a legal effort by a cable television network to broadcast his trial.

With Mr. Moussaoui watching impassively from a seat at the defense table, Edward McMahon, one of his court-appointed lawyers, said Mr. Moussaoui believed that televising the trial would bring "an added layer of protection, of fairness for other people to see and watch." Mr. Moussaoui did not speak during the hearing.

A government rule currently bars the broadcast of all federal criminal trials.

United States District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema heard competing arguments about lifting the ban from a lawyer for Court TV, which wants to broadcast the trial, and from a government lawyer who said the trial should not be televised.

Lee Levine, a lawyer for Court TV, said that the public had a right to observe judicial proceedings and that unobtrusive cameras in the court could help the public "see and hear" the trial.

Elizabeth Collery, a Justice Department lawyer who opposed televising the Moussaoui trial on security grounds, argued that the presence of cameras might affect the testimony of witnesses who were aware that their testimony was being broadcast. The Justice Department has also said the case law is clear that an individual judge has no authority to disregard the rule barring broadcasts of federal criminal trials.

At the close of the hearing, Judge Brinkema said to the Court TV lawyer, "You are asking the court to declare unconstitutional a federal rule." The judge said she would carefully consider the matter and issue a decision next week, possibly by Tuesday.

Judicial experts have said that the judge cannot by herself change a rule adopted by the Judicial Conference, a group that administers federal courts. The rule barring the broadcasts dates back to 1946.

The trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy J. McVeigh, which was held in Denver, was broadcast by closed-circuit television to survivors and families of victims in Oklahoma City, but only after Congress passed a special rule to allow it and the Judicial Conference went along.

In legal papers, Court TV has argued that the federal judicial rule banning cameras was unconstitutional. Court TV, owned by AOL Time Warner and Liberty Media, was supported in its motion by C-SPAN, a private corporation that distributes and produces information and public television networks.

At today's hearing, Judge Brinkema appeared concerned about potential security issues and asked several questions about whether televising the trial would expose witnesses, jurors, court employees, federal marshals and even the judge herself to possible threats in a high-visibility international terrorism trial.

"How do you get around the security concerns?" the judge asked Mr. Levine. "The court will still have to look at this case and permanency of visual images of trial participants," she said, noting that the images could be placed on the Internet and circulated worldwide.

Mr. Levine replied, "You will have ample discretion to impose restrictions." He said Court TV had always agreed to obscure the face of any witness who wanted it and told the judge that a "vast majority" of the case could be televised without raising security issues.

The skirmishing about whether the trial will be televised is taking place as each side in the case is preparing behind the scenes for battles over a series of important pretrial issues, including the possibility that prosecutors will seek the death penalty.

Four of the six charges against Mr. Moussaoui are punishable by a maximum sentence of death, including the charges that he conspired to commit an act of international terror. His trial is scheduled to begin in Judge Brinkema's court in October.

Today, Judge Brinkema pointed out two cameras already in place in her courtroom. These, she said, are in place to provide a closed-circuit broadcast of the proceedings to a nearby courtroom in case not all reporters could be accommodated in her courtroom. But Court TV wants to broadcast the proceedings over its network.

In memorandum filed with the judge last week, lawyers for Mr. Moussaoui said he supported the Court TV request but only with restrictions that limited coverage to the trial rather than pretrial and only if jurors were sequestered and would not have access to the television reports of the proceedings.

Copyright 2002, New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

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