Why was Deep Heard’s trial broadcast? Critics call it “the single worst decision” for victims of sexual violence

Watched by millions of people Benny AzkaratChief Justice of the Fairfax District Court (Virginia), where she presided over the defamation trial between Johnny Depp And the Amber Heard During the past six weeks.

Azcarate maintained a low attendance, accepting or rejecting evidence and occasionally cautioning witnesses to focus on the question. But Azkaret’s most significant decision may have come weeks before the trial, when she allowed Court TV to operate two cameras in the pool in the courtroom.

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Viewership increased dramatically as the trial continued, according to Law & Crime, which broadcast the entire event. When Depp took the stage on Wednesday, live viewership on her channel peaked at 1,247,163 — more than double the peak during his initial testimony in April. And over the past several weeks, demo clips have become inevitable on social media, as batches of footage of Depp’s reaction have gone viral around the world.

Viewers saw shocking and often horrific testimonies, especially from Heard, who claimed Depp sexually assaulted and attacked her so much that she feared she would be killed. In her last catwalk appearance on Thursday, Heard said it was “shameful” to relive those moments in front of the cameras. Depp denied Heard’s allegations and accused her of concocting a complex hoax that ruined his career.

Heard’s team tried unsuccessfully to exclude the cameras from the trial. At a pre-trial hearing on February 25, attorney Eileen Bredehoft noted that there was already massive media interest in addition to that of “anti-amber fearful networks.”

“What they will do is take a look at anything unfavorable—a look,” said Breedhoft. “They will take a statement out of context, and play it over and over again.”

Depp’s lawyer, Ben Chew, welcomed the cameras. He said Heard had already “smashed” Depp in the media, and he should not be allowed to hide out at the trial.

“Mr. Depp believes in transparency,” said Chiu.

Judge Benny Azkarat - Credit: AP

Judge Benny Azkarat – Credit: AP


In assessing this case, Azkarat noted that she was receiving a lot of media requests, and that she had a responsibility to keep the proceedings open to observers. If the cameras are not allowed, she fears that journalists will come into the courtroom, which could create a dangerous situation there.

“I don’t see any good reason not to do it,” Azcaret said.

Allowing to cover the sledge with the sledgehammer gave viewers the opportunity to see all the evidence, assess the credibility of witnesses and make their own decisions without having anything filtered out by news outlets. But some observers worry that Azkarat’s decision will have a chilling effect on victims of domestic violence.

“Allowing this trial to be televised is the worst single decision I can think of in the context of intimate partner violence and sexual violence in recent history,” said Michelle Dober, a professor at Stanford Law School. “It has repercussions beyond this case.”

Michelle Simpson Twiggle, an attorney who has represented sex crime victims in high-profile cases, said her clients often did not even want their real names to be used in public court files. Now, she’s worried that they’ll have to fear going live.

“They see someone who is not just being televised, but being dismantled in an obnoxious way,” she said. “Live broadcasting is really just a way of maximizing what survivors are going through. I am sad and disgusted with how you are going to create speech to scare people from seeking justice and talking about what they have gone through.”

Under Virginia law, the trial judge has almost complete discretion over allowing cameras into the courtroom. Primary law Lists some cases where cameras have been blockedIncluding the testimony of “Victims and Families of Victims of Sexual Crimes”.

At the hearing on February 25, Breedhoft argued that Heard was a victim of sexual assault, and therefore cameras should not be allowed. Azkaret did not accept that, reading the law, she found that the rule did not apply to civil cases.

Cameras are scarce in Virginia courts, according to several attorneys who practice there. A Fairfax County judge allowed them at the 2013 trial of Julio Blanco Garcia, who was convicted of the murder of a 19-year-old woman. That was an exception, said Joe King, an Alexandria-based criminal defense attorney.

King represented Charles Severance, a Fairfax County man who was tried and convicted of three murders in 2015. The case was locally popular, but the judge denied broadcast requests, instead allowing only still cameras. King said the judge also denied a media request to broadcast another murder trial he had conducted in Alexandria.

“It’s very extraordinary in Virginia,” he said. We have always objected to that. There is a lot going on in a great trial. I don’t think lawyers need that distraction.”

In 2012, a Charlottesville judge refused to allow cameras into the trial and sentencing of George Hogole, a UVA lacrosse player who was convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend. The judge judged that the cameras would have a detrimental effect on potential witnesses and jurors in a future civil case. Media organizations appealed the ruling, but the Virginia Supreme Court The judge upheld the decision.

Attorney Rhonda Quagliana, who represented Hugoli, said she was concerned that the cameras would make it difficult for him to get a fair trial. But she does not oppose cameras in all cases.

“It’s a difficult balance,” she said, noting that she watched the trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis police officer convicted of killing George Floyd. “This is an example of the cameras in the courtroom serving a vital purpose. People needed to see that trial. They needed to see the orderly administration of justice.”

Lawrence McClaverty, a Fairfax-based attorney, was looking at a case down the hall from the Depp-Heard trial, and he saw Depp’s supporters waiting outside every day to catch a glimpse of the actor. He said the Commonwealth was unlikely to see a similar situation any time soon.

“Virginia is a conservative place,” he said. “We’re not used to cameras, they can be intrusive and distracting, and it’s another thing the judge has to worry about. I don’t think we’ll see much of it.”

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