CVN Protests Camera Ban at Valassis v. News America Trial

Last Updated Jun 4, 2009 3:47 PM EDT

The Courtroom View Network, a company that streams video of court cases on the web, has written to Judge Michael Sapala of Wayne County Circuit Court in Detroit protesting his decision to ban cameras in the Valassis v. News America Marketing trial. Sapala's camera ban has meant that there are no journalists covering the case, as local reporters are devoting themselves entirely to the General Motors bankruptcy.

Sapala's decision has dismayed employees, clients and investors in both Valassis and News America, who now have no idea how the trial is going. Many have contacted BNET asking for updates. In the case, Valassis has accused News America of attempting to gain a monopoly of the in-store supermarket advertising business by illegally tying its in-store offerings to its newspaper coupon business. By using one to subsidize the other, Valassis alleges, News America unfairly dominates the market and distorts competition.

CVN's letter noted that Sapala was within his rights to ban cameras at the trial (download a copy here). However, CVN wrote:

the decision was made without an on the record finding called for per Administrative Order No.1989-1, Film or Electronic Media Coverage of Court Proceedings. We respectfully inquire as to why that was the case and the reasons why Your Honor would have cited for rejecting our properly submitted request for media access had such a finding been made...
Also unanswered is the question of why both Valassis and News America wanted the trial unfilmed. News America obviously would favor it because the less its clients know about allegations of how they bill their clients, the better. But for Valassis, publicizing bad news about News America would seem only to add to the pressure on their opponents. Perhaps Valassis' lawyers believe that News America will be more likely to settle under cover of darkness, so to speak.

Of course, the camera ban is not the main issue at the trial. Among other things, the big drama will be whether Valassis can use evidence from former News America employee Robert Emmel to make its case. It was Emmel who revealed at a different trial, Floorgraphics v. News America, that his company took money from clients for ads that never appeared. BNET previously reported that some Emmel evidence will be allowed in even though Emmel himself may not be a witness.