As video cameras float from courtroom to courtroom, defense attorneys are growing more concerned about the crew of “Las Vegas D.A.” — a “docudrama” about the Clark County District Attorney’s Office — recording moments they shouldn’t.
The reality TV show, with six episodes expected to air later this year on the Investigation Discovery cable channel, “follows District Attorney Steve Wolfson and his powerhouse team in real time, from assessing the scene of the crime to chasing the conviction in the courtroom,” according to its publicist.
For months the film crew, working from its own office space in the District Attorney’s suite on the third floor of the Regional Justice Center, has followed cases through the system.
Not everyone is ready for their closeup.
Defense attorneys have formally complained in court papers about the intrusion of cameras and microphones, saying conversations between lawyers and defendants were improperly recorded.
The case in question involves Maira Sepulveda, 25, and her lawyer, Frank Kocka, who met late last year with prosecutors after she and Gabrial Williams, 35 were charged with attempted murder, among other crimes, related to the shooting of Williams’ wife in the Rhodes Ranch community.
Williams and his lawyers weren’t at the meeting, but the television crew following the prosecutors was allowed in.
According to court papers, Kocka has said he realized that part of his conversation with Sepulveda was recorded without his knowledge, though it’s unclear how that could have happened. He has since withdrawn as Sepulveda’s attorney and could not be reached for comment last week.
The meeting didn’t lead to a plea deal in return for information Sepulveda provided, but Williams’ lawyers think Sepulveda might have told Kocka something about Williams’ role in the shooting.
Wolfson has said the footage from the meeting was immediately destroyed at Kocka’s request, but Williams’ lawyers have asked for a court hearing to determine what was said and to have any recording preserved, if it still exists.
“There are differing accounts as to what took place at the meeting and how much of the meeting was recorded,” Williams defense attorney Dean Kajioka wrote in a court filing. “However, it is undisputed that neither Mr. Kocka nor his client consented to the recording. … It is clear that the state intentionally destroyed the recordings without any deference to Mr. Williams.”
Kajioka argued that any evidence known to prosecutors that could prove his client’s innocence, “regardless of whether the information is memorialized,” should be disclosed.
The Nevada Supreme Court has said that destroying or losing evidence amounts to a due process violation “only if the defendant shows either that the state acted in bad faith or that the defendant suffered undue prejudice the exculpatory value of the evidence was apparent before it was lost or destroyed.”
A hearing on the lawyer’s request is set for March 7.
Wolfson has said he hopes the unscripted show could help solve cold cases, such as the 20-year-old murder of rap legend Tupac Shakur.
It’s unclear which cases will be featured in initial episodes, but the production crew, carrying both video and still cameras, tripods, long boom mics and a collection of transmitters to clip to lawyers, is following fresh cases as well as those years in the making.
Complaints about the production crew are common.
Some defense lawyers have said that “Las Vegas D.A.” microphones have been stretched in their direction while they were consulting with clients in open court, though the crew members denied those conversations were being recorded.
Another attorney for Williams, Roy Nelson, said his clients feel uncomfortable talking with him in court while the camera crews, with their outstretched microphones, are present.
“I wouldn’t object to the media normally being there,” Nelson said. “But it’s essentially the way they do it, with the taping of you talking to a client with a boom mic.”
Wolfson declined comment on that issue.
There’s also a concern that the show may be violating rules that allow news media to have cameras in the courtroom. Not only is the production company not a news organization, judges have generally allowed its crews even more access than local news organizations can get.
Still, some attorneys say they’re OK with “Las Vegas D.A.”
During a recent trial filmed for the show, defense attorney Warren Geller said he had no problem toggling on and off the microphone transmitter clipped to his suit. And he and the defendant came up with a “safe” phrase to use if the television crew microphones hovered overhead as they discussed the case.
Geller would tell his client: “Let’s talk about that over the weekend.”
— Contact David Ferrara at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-380-1039. Find him on Twitter: @randompoker