Valuable Insight Given at OSBA Conference
The Ohio State Bar Association hosted its annual Law and Media conference October 12, welcoming judges, lawyers, reporters, faculty, students, and media professionals to its headquarters in Columbus.
The conference agenda provided a chance for legal professionals to earn continuing education credits and everyone to get up to date on media law, social media and ethical issues. A session titled “5 Things Lawyers Hate about Journalists/Five Things Journalists Hate about Lawyers” opened the door to a robust and frank discussion on the sometimes strained relationship between the third branch of government and the fourth estate.
Aaron Marshall, who covers the statehouse for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, said his primary complaint of lawyers is “they don’t really speak English.” He said lawyers should remember to use clear language when they are speaking to reporters.
“Tell me a story,” he said. “Be simple. Be plain.”
Nick Selvaggio, Champaign County prosecutor, agreed that some lawyers are too verbose. But he said there is a more fundamental issue at play.
“We first have to understand the roles that we have. Lawyers have to prove facts. I see the journalist’s job as to tell a story,” he said.
Selvaggio pointed out that lawyers are bound by the rules of professional conduct.
As a prosecutor, he is particularly limited by trial rule 3.6 on trial publicity and rule 3.8, which outlines the special responsibilities of the prosecutor, he said.
“You will see that the things we are allowed to talk about are boring stuff. It doesn’t make for good news copy,” Selvaggio said. “You guys want to hear motive. I can’t share motive because my job is to prove facts.”
While police can comment on motive and other factors, and defense attorneys might respond to what the police say, “prosecutors are caught in the middle,” Selvaggio said. Reporters need to understand these limitations, he said.
Similarly, it would be helpful for lawyers to be aware of reporters’ limitations, which have changed with the 24-hour news cycle, Marshall said. “Understand my deadlines. I may not have until the end of the day like 10 years ago. I need to have some contact with you and I need to have it as soon as possible,” Marshall said.
As for Selveggio’s primary problem with reporters? “There are times that journalists forget that the people they cover are victims of crime.” He called the release of 9-1-1 tapes and the broadcasts of those tapes “unsettling,” noting the extra suffering they cause victims’ families.
Selvaggio also said he does appreciate journalists who do not establish relationships with those they are assigned to cover. “I always get surprised at how some reporters come in and expect instant access,” he said.
Both Selvaggio and Marshall agreed, however, that it is important for officials to take the same position with and provide the same information to all media, whether local, regional or national.