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Judge rules cameras permitted in courtroom for opioid trial

NORMAN — News cameras will be permitted in the courtroom to cover a trial in which the State of Oklahoma has accused more than a dozen drug manufacturing companies of causing the state's deadly opioid epidemic through fraudulent marketing practices.

The trial is expected to begin in May.

"Unquestionably, the issues presented in this matter are of great importance to the citizens of Oklahoma," Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman said in his ruling Wednesday.

"The court believes that modern technology allows the placement of digital cameras in a relatively discreet and unobtrusive fashion," Balkman stated. "It is the court's hope that by expanding the trial audience beyond the limited seats in the courtroom, the professional proceedings will bolster public understanding and confidence in the judicial system."

The request for cameras in the courtroom was made by The Oklahoman and the newspaper's editor applauded the judge's decision Wednesday.

“This lawsuit is for all Oklahomans and we look forward to providing a front-row seat to our readers and viewers," said Kelly Dyer Fry, editor of The Oklahoman and vice president of news for the Oklahoman Media Company. "Addiction has wreaked havoc in our state. As this trial unfolds, countless families will want to know the details”

Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter also praised the decision, saying it would bring "transparency, accountability and clarity to this trial."

"Allowing cameras in the courtroom will give Oklahomans across the state and individuals from across the country a firsthand account of the proceedings," Hunter said. "It will also allow individuals to see how these companies maliciously deceived the nation while creating the deadliest man-made epidemic in United States history."

Attorneys for the pharmaceutical companies opposed allowing cameras in the courtroom, arguing that "broadcasting this trial across the internet and airwaves presents a needless but serious risk of undermining defendants' right to be tried by a fair and impartial jury."

The judge said he would control placement of cameras to make sure they don't interfere or distract trial participants or disturb courtroom decorum. The judge also made it clear that he reserved the right to order cameras to be turned off at times, such as when sensitive medical information was being presented that might violate a person's privacy.

The judge appointed Oklahoma City attorney Bob Burke to serve as a special master to be consulted regarding camera issues.

Noting that reporters have traditionally written stories based on notes taken in courtrooms, the judge said, "it is arguable that presentation of visual images and audio recordings of a trial present a more complete picture of the judicial proceedings, with the hope that the public's access to information is enhanced."

Randy Ellis

For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two... Read more ›