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Have more questions? Please contact Greg Hurley at ghurley@ncsc.org or (800) 616-6164.


What unique challenges will arise based on this type of case?

Certain types of cases require more attention than others. This section looks to analyze these unique types of high-profile cases and the unique challenges they create. 

Cases with a celebrity defendant, victim, or witness (e.g., Roger Clemons, Martha Stewart, Bill Cosby, Jerry Sandusky, Michael Jackson, and Lindsay Lohan) create added pressures on the media relations role, the court security role, and court facilities and grounds due to their unique nature. 

  • There is a strong likelihood that a celebrity case will attract coverage by media that do not regularly cover the courts. It might benefit the court to create a FAQ document or guide to answer common questions these individuals might have. This will help relieve pressures on the court, and can greatly help those new to covering court cases gain their footing. 
  • The potential for a large public turnout is high due to the celebrity (e.g., fan clubs.) Crowd control is exceedingly important and deserves a high level of attention and planning.
  • It is important to communicate with the public about appropriate attire and conduct.  Courts vary on this point but many restrict T-shirts with offensive slogans, shorts, any noises from the audience, etc.  
  • Be prepared for requests to accommodate celebrity entourages (agents, publicists, security, etc.) Due to space constraints, these accommodations might not be possible and it is best to predetermine any policies the court about who will be allowed and what space will be allocated to entourages, if any.

Cases involving difficult litigants (e.g., militia/posse comitatus, unrepresented litigants, litigants with mental illness, etc.) can produce varied challenges due to their unique nature. The following considerations have been found useful in previous high-profile trials involving difficult litigants. 

  • It is critical to gain the attention of the difficult litigant early in the trial to ensure that they understand procedures, expectations, and the consequences for any violations.  
  • Difficult litigants can create a heightened need for a calm demeanor by the trial judge. Judges may have to impose sanctions for misconduct, but any sanction imposed should not be perceived as fundamentally unfair to the litigant. 
  • Militia/posse comitatus cases may involve heightened security risks both inside and outside of the courtroom. It is important that security is prepared for intimidation of jurors and potential jurors, as well as nuisance attacks on the trial judge, court staff, lawyers, and witnesses.  
  • The court should consider appointing a lawyer to serve as a consultant to self-represented litigants to help with maintaining order and reduce unnecessary delays.  
  • If there is any concern that the litigant might be mentally ill, or if the litigant is claiming an insanity defense look to state laws regarding how the litigant is to be treated, any resources that might be available, etc. 

Cases involving terrorism/organized crime cases (e.g., Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, Richard Reid, Whitey Bulger, etc.) can generate a large national and international attention, and create unique security challenges for the courts. This section seeks to help identify some considerations the court should give when faced with such a case. 

  • Terrorism/organized crime cases attract a large amount of national media coverage, but also representatives of the international media. It might benefit the court to create a FAQ document or guide to answer common questions these individuals might have about American courts and the court in question. This will help relieve pressures off of the court, and can greatly help those new to covering court cases gain their footing.
  • With a terrorism case, there will be heightened concerns about court security. It might be beneficial to begin a dialogue with the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and other relevant federal agencies due to the increases in security demands.
  • With a terrorism case, it is likely that classified information will be involved. The trial judge and court staff may need to obtain security clearances to access that information. 

There are two types of political cases; those that involve political corruption (e.g., Scooter Libby, Rod Blagojevich, Robert McDonnell, etc.) and those that revolve around political issues (e.g., police shooting cases, Proposition 8, etc). Both types can produce a plethora of concerns regarding fairness, causing increased speculation and focus on the courts. The following considerations have been found useful in helping maintain control of a high-profile political case. 

  • Appointed or elected members of the judiciary are chosen by an inherently political process.  When making the assignment of the trial judge it is important to be aware of political connotations and implications the choice may have, and to make that decision with a goal of mitigating or downplaying any political biases. 
  • Expect and plan for potential political demonstrations inside and outside of the courtroom, make sure security is properly staffed and prepared accordingly.
  • In political cases, consider that non-court stakeholders might have to be extended beyond the normal groups due to possible legislative investigations, ongoing federal investigations in state cases, etc.

Some cases turn into high-profile cases because of the notoriety of the person or the severity of the situation.  Other cases involving otherwise normal people play out like an episode of reality TV (e.g., Casey Anthony, Jodi Arias, etc.) and gain national media attention, turning a previously normal case into a high-profile case almost overnight. 

  • Reality TV cases routinely attract coverage by media who do not regularly cover the courts. It might benefit the court to create a FAQ document or guide to answer common questions these individuals might have. This will help relieve pressures off of the court, and can greatly help those new to covering court cases gain their footing.  
  • In "reality TV" cases there is will be a heightened need for the security role to monitor social media. The public may not be well-informed about court procedures and might post hostility or outrage they feel about the court, the parties, etc.  Scanning social media for viable threats and reacting in accord will help better protect everyone involved with the case.

Capital cases and cases involving heinous crimes are some of the most difficult to manage.  They may not necessarily generate national media attention, but may meet the general definition of a high-profile case based solely on the amount of local or regional attention.   

Often these cases elicit strong community views not only about the ultimate question of the defendant’s guilt, but also concerning critical pretrial and post-trial events such as bond hearings, sentencing decisions, and appeals.  As members of the community, court staff may also have strong opinions about the case.  The high-profile case leadership team should ensure that all staff present themselves as professional and unbiased in public comments.

Victims, victims’ families and defendants’ families will also have strong feelings about the case and may wish to attend all court hearings.  Seating arrangements in the courtroom should allocate enough seats to accommodate these individuals, but should take care that they are not given adjacent seats. 

Pretrial publicity and strong community opinions in capital cases and cases involving heinous crimes may make it more difficult to empanel an impartial jury.  The court should be prepared to summon and qualify a much larger pool of prospective jurors for jury selection.  It is even possible that an impartial jury cannot be empaneled in that community, and the court will need to empanel an out-of-county jury or move the case to another venue

Capital cases and cases involving heinous crime often involve graphic and disturbing evidence and testimony that can lead to high levels of stress and anxiety for juror and even court staff.  The court should be prepared to offer support including counseling services, if possible, to jurors and any similarly affected staff.

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