Livestream trials add transparency

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The charges against Des Moines (Iowa) Register reporter Andrea Sahouri and her acquittal have been well documented by media all over the world, including AP stories that were published in the Daily Sentinel throughout the trial.

What should not be overlooked amid the coverage and commentary about the case: the value of the public being able to easily watch the three-day trial online in real time.

The livestreamed proceedings were a model for other courtrooms in Iowa and around the nation and were made possible by Drake Law School and its First Year Trial Practicum.

For one week each spring, all classes for first-year law students at Drake shift to an actual trial held on campus. The unique endeavor, now in its 24th year, allows students to witness every phase of a trial. They watch jury selection. They can talk with attorneys, judges and even jurors after a verdict.

The value of this program was expanded from law students to all the rest of us when Drake selected the trial for State of Iowa v. Andrea Sahouri. The defendant was working for the Register covering a protest when she was arrested and charged with interference with official acts and failure to disperse.

In a typical year, Drake would livestream a trial to only a few students unable to attend in person. Some members of the public might show up on campus to watch.

This year the school opened access online free to anyone in the world to watch the trial. It had 7,700 unique views of the proceedings, including from the United Kingdom and Germany.

Those of us who watched quickly realized this was not an episode of “Law & Order,” the Register reported.

It was better. More of this transparency could bolster the public’s understanding of how our justice system works.

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