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TV coverage of Md. trials a step closer


Millions of television viewers across the country watched the William Kennedy Smith rape trial from Florida and the Menendez brothers murder trial from California. But had those trials been held in Maryland, there would have been a TV blackout.

Maryland is one of only four states that do not permit some TV coverage of criminal trials. Camera coverage of appellate hearings is allowed in Maryland, and of civil trials in limited circumstances. But now, the prohibition against televising criminal trials, which was mandated by the legislature in 1981, may soon be lifted.

Yesterday, the state Senate gave final approval, by a vote of 27-15, to a bill that repeals the ban on coverage of criminal trials. The measure now goes to the House Judiciary Committee, where passage is less certain.

Having cameras in the courtroom is "a good idea because we need the populace to have faith in the American justice system," said Byron L. Warnken, a professor of criminal and constitutional law at the University of Baltimore School of Law. "The more they get to see how the justice system works, the more they will have faith in it."

And knowing that the TV cameras are rolling will have a positive impact on some judges and lawyers, he said. "I think all human beings behave differently when strangers are watching," said Mr. Warnken. "Just like a lawyer is likely to be more prepared in front of a demanding judge, the reality is that if you're a lawyer, and the case is going to be televised, you'll look again to make sure that shirt is pressed."

Ellen Adena Callegary, president of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland, agreed that allowing cameras in the courtroom will give citizens a better understanding of the justice system and enable them to make informed decisions about the best way to fight crime. "That's what our democracy is all about," she said.

But Abraham A. Dash, who teaches ethics and criminal procedure at the University of Maryland School of Law, said, "I for years have argued against it." Allowing TV cameras in the courtroom, he said, puts witnesses and jurors in a position where they have no choice but to have their pictures on television.

Mr. Dash said he is particularly concerned that nightly newscasts will show only 30 seconds of the most sensational testimony.

"It's one thing to televise for educational purposes," he said, but "in a high-profile case, what you'll see are little tidbits."

Irked by telemarketing? File suit, center advises

A consumer rights organization, the Center for the Study of Commercialism, has some advice for people who are tired of getting annoying calls from telemarketing firms.

The advice: Sue them.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act, passed in 1991, bans recorded sales pitches to home phones and requires companies that use live operators to keep lists of people who ask not to be called. If a company calls again within a year, it can be sued for up to $500.

A company that "willfully or knowingly" violates the law can be sued for up to $1,500 per violation.

Michael Jacobson, the Center's co-founder, sued Citibank in Small Claims Court in Washington last year for calling him twice at home after being asked not to. The case settled out of court for $750.

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