If you want to see the trial of Mayor Larry O’Brien for yourself, there’s probably room in Courtroom 36 on any given day, but don’t expect riveting legal drama. You’ll likely hear no scandalized gasps from the gallery, no warnings from the judge that he will clear the court if there’s another such outburst, and indeed, no outbursts.
The mayor’s trial on charges of attempted bribery and purported influence peddling has been a low-key, methodical and often yawn-worthy affair, with judge, lawyers and courtroom staff carrying out their duties as if His Worship was just another accused. Which, after all, he is.
And he’s not, as can be deduced from the sizable media contingent in attendance. They’ve received permission to cover the proceedings in real time, and so this is a blog-logged, Twitter-tagged trial. The reporters, though strapped with BlackBerrys and laptops, still seem to overwhelmingly prefer to take their notes with pen and notepad. Old habits die hard, and this low-tech approach avoids the perils of the vanishing wireless signal or the juiceless battery.
Given the unusual legal and political twists inherent in a mayor on trial, the press also came equipped with lawyers. On Monday, they were there to argue for access to Exhibit 13, the video of O’Brien’s police interview, which had been played back in its entirety in court.
Richard Dearden, counsel for the Ottawa Citizen, argued some parts of the video were difficult to hear, and while a transcript was available to ensure accurate reporting, the written record does not pick up gestures or tones of voice, the difference between a serious statement and a joke.
Dearden didn’t mention it, but the transcript alone would also deprive the public of hearing in the mayor’s own voice his somewhat salty vernacular, in which he refers to an initial meeting with accuser Terry Kilrea as a “d--k-stretching contest,” and punctuates his side of the story with scatological expressions, “p--ses me off … full of sh-- … a little bulls--t on my part,” etc.
O’Brien’s lawyer, Michael Edelson, argued against releasing the video, arguing the media would selectively mine it for sound bites (see previous paragraph), and, once put online, it could be altered in countless misleading ways.
The media prevailed, and now the mayor’s entire sit-down with the OPP is online. At the time of this writing, no viral mash-ups of the interview had yet been uploaded to YouTube, but the Citizen had made one alteration on its website: The addition of advertisements. Exhibit 13, brought to you by Canada Dry.
Score one for freedom of the press.