Supreme Court initiative aims to improve media coverage

Print More

(Host) Vermont judges worry that some of the nuances of their rulings are lost when a case becomes national news.

So the Supreme Court wants to work with local reporters to make sure they understand how the courts work before the story is told.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd has more.

(Sneyd) Several cases in the past few years have drawn the attention of national media. And some of that attention has not been welcome.

(Gabel) “It’s not motivation but often the high profile case can bring to light challenges that we have in the system.”

(Sneyd) Patricia Gabel, public information officer at the Supreme Court, says the Mark Hulett case was an example.

Hulett was first given a short sentence for a sex crime. It only came out later that his sentence was based on the lack of room in the state’s sex offender treatment program.

More recently, courts have been criticized because Michael Jacques received an early release from probation for a sex crime.

He’s now accused in the kidnapping of his niece, a 12-year-old who police say was killed.

In each case, the national media attention started with local news stories. Patricia Gabel says the stories could have been more complete if the court had been able to get out more information at the outset.

Gabel would like to organize a committee of judges, court officials and reporters.

It would be a forum where each side could talk about their basic needs when covering trials and hearings.

(Gabel) “And so the idea is to in a very small way in the beginning start to get a dialogue going for the joint purpose of mutual understanding but also for better public understanding of what we do in the judicial branch because it’s such an important part of our civic life.”

(Sneyd) Gabel would like to pair that initiative with creation of a new Web page.

It would have general information that a journalist – or a member of the public – could access about the courts.

When there’s something that gets wider attention, she would post links on the page to statutes or even key filings in a case.

(Gabel) “So in cases where a high profile news event shines a light on a particular case … I wish I had on the Web site already explained how the system works so when this comes up I could simply refer to the Web site.”

(Sneyd) Michael Donoghue is the executive director of the Vermont Press Association.

He says the news media is always open to discussing issues with government agencies.

(Donoghue) “The Vermont Press Association is always interested in discussing with any of the three branches of government, the judiciary, the legislative, the executive, how we can do our job better to inform the public so it has confidence in government institutions.”

(Sneyd) Donoghue says the courts haven’t contacted the media about the ideas. The Supreme Court says it’s an initiative that it would like to organize this fall.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd in Montpelier.


Comments are closed.