When the News Comes Knockin': Your Case is Going Public


Every year we represent people who commit crimes that are naturally newsworthy. Many times I read about the case in the morning paper and get a call later that day. We try to get those clients into the office immediately because once reporters latch on to a story for the day, they don't let go. Until the story airs, that is, and they move on to the next day's story.

These cases tend to be fatal accidents, serious injury accidents, prominent people in the community who commit crimes, or sensational stories. For instance, earlier this year I represented the woman who squirted her breast milk at police officers who were trying to arrest her. That story aired all across the world. There wasn't a thing I could do to quarantine that one.

The fatal accident cases (DUI, texting while driving) are almost always a "No Comment" from us. The respect that is owed to the victim's family shouldn't be usurped by a lawyer trying the case in the public just days after the tragedy. A statement can always be made later. In court. Where it belongs. Saying something idiotic in the days following a fatal accident will almost always haunt your client.

However, what about your run of the mill case, no accident, no serious injury or death, and no sensational component? What if a reporter showed up at your door at dinner time with a cameraman? I just had this scenario earlier this week.

My client was coming home from a Columbus Clippers game with his wife and children. He had one beer. He was stopped by Dublin Police. He did quite well on the roadside field sobriety tests. He agreed to give a sample of his breath because he knew exactly what was in his blood -- 1 beer. Uh oh. The machine regurgitated a reading twice the legal limit! That nice family evening outing just turned into a nightmare. But the worst was yet to come.

The client was charged with DUI and 2 counts of child endangering. That combo is the express lane to jail in the courts of Ohio. Several weeks later a news reporter shows up at his home with a cameraman. His wife answered the door. Stunned. Dad getting arrested in front of the kids was bad enough. Now the news crew was out front and suddenly this nightmare was turning into a mini-series that won't end.

The client called me. I was at dinner with my family. I called the reporter, introduced myself, and politely asked him how my client's case was newsworthy to anyone other than his gossipy neighbors. He didn't have a solid answer. I asked him how he learned of my client's arrest. Again, no solid answer. I asked him if I could speak to his news director. The person who could review the story for newsworthiness.

A few hours later I received a call from the reporter telling me he was not going to air the story (for now). I am not sure what happened but if it is a slow news day and a reporter can get "sound" for a story, the newsworthiness of a story becomes less relevant. Dashboard video almost always plays regardless of the newsworthiness of the subject.

The bottom line is this: reporters love tips and need, absolutely need, tips to find a story to air. There is a lot of air that needs filled every day. The bar is pretty low in Columbus, in my opinion, for news reporting. It doesn't take much for a producer to send a reporter out on a story that, quite honestly, 99% of the viewers don't care about.