Government & Politics

No photos will be allowed when Greitens verdict comes down

Gov. Eric Greitens' trial will be held in the Civil Courts building in downtown St. Louis, across the street from the Carnahan Courthouse,  where his pretrial hearings have been held.
Gov. Eric Greitens' trial will be held in the Civil Courts building in downtown St. Louis, across the street from the Carnahan Courthouse, where his pretrial hearings have been held. Courtesy of Google

When a St. Louis jury decides Gov. Eric Greitens’ guilt or innocence this month, no photographer will be allowed to capture the moment.

St. Louis Circuit Judge Rex Burlison ruled last week against allowing video equipment in the courtroom when the Republican governor goes to trial on a charge of felony invasion of privacy.

But media rules for the governor’s trial posted by the St. Louis Circuit Court on Wednesday also prohibit audio recording of the proceedings and restrict still photography to the first 10 minutes of the trial, which begins next week.

That means when the jury delivers its verdict, the only way to see the expression on the governor’s face or hear the response from trial attendees will be to physically be at the courthouse.

“This is the biggest news story in the state of Missouri in years and it impacts every citizen in the state. And I think it is such a shame that taxpayers in the state won’t have an ability to have a visual image of what’s going on in the courtroom,” said Jean Maneke, a Kansas City attorney who represents the Missouri Press Association and The Associated Press.

Maneke called the rules the most restrictive she has seen for a trial in her legal career.

Burlison said at a hearing Wednesday that he is trying to accommodate the media.

A St. Louis grand jury on Feb. 22 indicted Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens on a felony charge of invasion of privacy.

The court has reserved rows for reporters and, in the expectation of intense media interest, set up an overflow room, ensuring that the trial will be documented by The Star and other outlets.

However, Maneke said, the restrictions on audio and visual reporting will detract from the public’s overall ability to understand the trial.

“Words can convey a lot, but a picture conveys so much more,” she said. “There is a perception among some members of the public that the media produces fake news and the best way to show that what the media reports is the reality is to do so with a visual image, and that’s been denied to the public in this case."

Sketch artists also will be banned from the courtroom, but the judge agreed Wednesday to allow a sketch artist to work from the overflow room, where journalists will watch the proceedings on closed-circuit TV.

Any photography, video or audio recording of the closed-circuit TV will be prohibited.

Wednesday’s hearing also featured discussion on whether Lauren Trager, the reporter for KMOV-TV in St. Louis who first broke the story of the allegations against the governor, could be called to the stand by Greitens' defense team.

Trager’s interview with the ex-husband of a woman whom Greitens allegedly photographed while she was partly nude and without her consent spurred the criminal investigation and an additional legislative investigation.

Missouri lawmakers have called a special session this month to weigh impeachment of the governor based on the investigations that followed Trager’s initial report.

Jim Bennett, a member of Greitens’ legal team, said whether Trager is called to the stand depends on how the prosecution’s case unfolds.

Bennett said Trager “aggressively pushed” for the story of the governor’s affair to be disclosed. He mentioned that Trager set up an appointment with the woman under a false name before her report aired.

“This is not a reporter in any classical sense,” Bennett said.

Mike Nepple, an attorney for KMOV, said that Trager has not been deposed in the case and that everything she knows is public knowledge.

“She does not know anything about the facts of the case,” Nepple said. “They had the opportunity to talk to her and didn’t talk to her. This is simply to punish her and to keep her out of the courtroom.”