Since O.J. Simpson’s murder trial, I’ve developed a healthy disdain for celebrity trials, and now, I’m loathing them even more. But as a journalism student I was fascinated by such trials ever since I first saw the headline: “THAW SANE!” declaring Harry Thaw’s restored mental capacity after he was found, in his second trial, not guilty by reason of insanity in the 1906 murder of famed New York architect Stanford White. Since then, thanks to the media’s embrace, there’s been an insufferable sequence of one “trial of the century” after another.
Brace yourself because here comes the next one: entertainer Bill Cosby will stand trial on sexual assault charges after a probable cause ruling by a Pennsylvania judge. The wall-to-wall cable TV punditry and instant legal analysis began immediately and, presidential politics aside, will continue unabated. Even Cosby’s alleged victims–people whose stories once came from the witness stand, if ever–have left no lurid tale untold.
On many levels, it makes sense that celebrity status magnifies the attention that the press and the public give to the legal entanglements of famous people–athletes, entertainers, and politicians whose high pedestal makes their fall from grace so stunning.
What troubles me, though, is the inattention–the lack of the same infatuation–to the compelling drama that unfolds constantly in our nation’s courthouses. Every day, individuals and businesses seek justice from lawyers, prosecutors, judges, and juries. Their daily grind goes unheralded as they toil in obscurity. Are their cases less important, and do they carry any less consequence, simply because no one but the people involved are paying attention?
Does this spotlight disparity evoke a cost in our justice system? Do results differ based on whether there is gavel-to-gavel coverage? Are we adequately ensuring “justice for all” when the resources invested in, and the scrutiny devoted to, similar matters is skewed by celebrity?
I found many lists of the most famous celebrity trials. I was surprised to see that I had even played a small role in Nos. 5 and 6 on The Daily Beast’s “20 Biggest Trials of the Past 20 Years.” But nowhere do I see the questions I’ve asked, or the answers we should be seeking. It’s long past time to divert 15 minutes of fame to these issues to ensure that our justice system is not the biggest loser in the biggest trials.
Randall Samborn is a Senior Vice President at LEVICK, a lawyer, and a former award-winning legal affairs reporter who served two decades as the spokesman for one of the highest-profile United States Attorney’s Offices in the country.