Editorial: Open court, from OJ to Trump: The hush money trial transcripts must be published

New York Daily News Editorial Board, New York Daily News on

Published in Op Eds

O.J. Simpson’s death reminds us that the 134 days of wall-to-wall TV coverage of his 1995 criminal trial allowed Americans to see every aspect of a celebrity case play out in a Los Angeles courtroom. Millions watched and millions of others didn’t, but the choice was theirs.

Wrongly, terribly wrongly, there will be no such option for Americans to watch the far more consequential and important criminal trial of Donald Trump, starting in a Manhattan courtroom on Monday. They may not be able to even read the transcripts of the proceedings. This is the opposite of transparency.

Yes, Simpson was charged and acquitted of two murders, of his ex wife Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, far more serious crimes than what Trump is facing for hiding hush money payments to porn actor Stormy Daniels.

However, Simpson was just a retired football great and a not great actor, while Trump is the first ex-president and the first presidential nominee to face a criminal trial. The fate of the nation’s past leader, and possible future leader, is at stake.

Supporters of Trump should be outraged by this, as should opponents of the ex-president. Everyone should have the opportunity to decide for themselves on the trial being conducted by Acting Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan by watching, listening or reading everything that is happening in the courtroom.

Unlike California of three decades ago, the backward New York of today does not allow cameras or even microphones in courtrooms when witness testimony is being given, making it alone along with Louisiana, (which uniquely uses the continental civil code) in remaining in the dark ages.

Of course, New York should permit video and audio of civil and criminal trials, which Gov. Kathy Hochul and Chief Judge Rowan Wilson support and the state Senate is advancing a bill. Keep going and get it done. But it won’t happen by Monday, but that still leaves Merchan free to permit video or audio of the non-witness portions.


Still, cameras and mics aside, what Merchan and Wilson and Chief Administrative Judge Joe Zayas must absolutely do is make sure that the daily verbatim transcripts prepared by court stenographers are free to be published.

Lawyer Nick Akerman, an occasional op-ed writer in these pages, submitted a letter to Merchan and the court file on Monday requesting full public access to the transcripts, something this column has been raising the alarm on for a year. So far there’s been no response to Akerman’s request.

The stenographers get paid six-figure salaries as state employees with full benefits, including health insurance with no copays, and guaranteed pensions (real pensions). Yet under a crazy deal they cut long ago, they get to personally pocket the proceeds of every transcript they sell to the court, the defense, the prosecution and the press.

The Daily News and our competitors buy these transcripts, which can cost a few hundred bucks a day. But insanely no one is supposed to publish the transcripts or post them on the web.

The transcripts are public records, not copyrighted material like newspapers and books and music. Merchan, Wilson and Zayas have until Monday to fix this and let Americans read what is happening in the Trump trial.


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