MARTY RUSSELL: Finding it hard to get back(side) into court scene

By Marty Russell

Covering a court case can be a pain in the … well, you figure it out but it’s not the neck.
I used to think that being a reporter required a lot of backbone, you know, the ability to stand your ground and demand the truth. While it does require that kind of resolve to serve your readers in the manner they expect of the press, the older I get and the more court cases I cover I’ve become convinced that being a good journalist also requires a lot of lard, particularly in the hind quarters.
I’ve been covering the ricin-letters case for another news organization for about two weeks now which has meant sitting in on long hearings as the case, or cases as we now know, are laid out. It’s the first time I’ve had to do that in a while having spent many of the past years standing and pacing around in a classroom. So when I returned to the courtroom for a change, I had forgotten just how uncomfortable it can be.
First let me say that the oft-used phrase that judges “sit on the bench” is a complete misnomer if not out-and-out perjury. Judges sit in what appear to be very comfortable, thickly padded and probably ergonomically-correct chairs surrounded by video monitors I suspect they use to watch reruns of “Perry Mason” while the rest of have to listen to the attorneys drone on and on and on.
No, it’s not the judges who sit on the bench, it’s the spectators such as us reporters. Hard, wooden benches. Church pews without the cushioning or the comfort of at least imagining you’re doing some kind of penance for enduring both a sermon and hard seat. If George W. Bush had used back-end boarding instead of waterboarding he probably could have squeezed a lot more information out of his terror detainees.
A lot of my colleagues have apparently evolved to fit the situation, having considerably more natural padding to help them adjust. But me, I weigh about 140 pounds soaking wet and with bricks in both pockets. Besides not having a law degree, I don’t have what it takes to sit on the bench.
After hours of testimony, we all start to squirm, even those better equipped than myself.
That’s where the next misconception about court cases comes in. You don’t stand trial. Even the defendant sits and they usually have a nice comfy chair as well. The only people who stand during a trial are the attorneys. If one of us spectators were to suddenly stand up during a trial proceeding and have a good stretch, we’d probably be wrestled to the ground by a bunch of big guys with guns. And then we’d probably get a good stretch in a holding cell.
But covering court cases is rewarding. You get the thrill of victory that justice was served. You also get the agony of the seat.
MARTY RUSSELL writes a Wednesday column for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at

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