CARSON CITY, Nev. (CN) – News cameras have been allowed in state courtrooms in Nevada for years. But whether that open-door policy extends to a cable television show that focuses on Las Vegas prosecutors became its own legal drama, with the state’s high court providing the concluding scene.
It was not a nail-biter of an ending, however, as the Nevada Supreme Court ruled unanimously that My Entertainment TV, which filmed portions of a murder trial for the cable television show “Las Vegas Law,“ is allowed to record courtroom proceedings as a “news reporter” under the court’s rules for cameras in the court.
In a 12-page opinion released Thursday, the court concluded that footage for the show, which airs on the Investigation Discovery channel, is shown for educational or informational purposes – a key element for allowing electronic coverage of state court proceedings.
“Las Vegas Law” premiered in May 2016 and follows Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson and his team of prosecutors in the Las Vegas metropolitan area as they work cases. The show was renewed for a second season this year with six episodes scheduled, according to Investigation Discovery.
The defendant in the murder trial, Michael Solid, challenged the trial judge’s decision to allow filming for the show. He argued in part that My Entertainment TV is not a news reporter and that the footage would not be used solely for educational or informational purposes but also for unrelated advertising reasons, which is not allowed.
The court, however, dismissed the advertising argument. Any footage used in creating the show would be used for a “related” advertising purpose, the opinion states.
Even though Solid’s trial and the filming have ended, the court determined the matter is not moot because “remaining shows on the current production contract, as well as episodes of any future seasons, will present many of the same issues of widespread importance.”
The court further said Solid’s petition “presents a novel, important issue of law in need of this court’s clarification.”
The decision, written by Justice Mark Gibbons, cited the court’s definition of a “news reporter” within its media-coverage rules. Under that plain language, My Entertainment TV meets the definition, the court said, turning aside another of Solid’s arguments that the television producer’s stated purpose is to create a “docu-drama” as opposed to a traditional news program.
The show’s footage “concerns local events (trials within the community) for dissemination to the public,” Gibbons wrote.
Gibbons rejected another argument that the show’s producer is not a news reporter because Clark County receives royalties and has some editorial control over the show.
“While this is perhaps an uncommon arrangement in the news business it does not run afoul of any requirement” of the rule defining a news reporter, Gibbons wrote.
The court also found that Solid failed to overcome the presumption of allowing electronic recording in the courtroom with his contention that filming would jeopardize his right to a fair trial primarily because his attorneys would be distracted by the cameras.
Gibbons wrote: “Solid did not present evidence showing how the (television producer’s) cameras affected the fairness of the trial, the dignity of the proceedings, or the ability of trial counsel to present effective advocacy any differently than the other cameras in the courtroom.”
The court also concluded that an agreement between the show’s producer and Clark County did not require special public defenders in the trial to consent to the filming. Part of that agreement provides that filming of county employees will be conducted only with each employee’s written permission.
Those consent requirements only apply to filming in the district attorney’s office, the court ruled.