New Jersey girl’s cop video brings back memories of Maryland man

Friday morning on NPR I heard a story that reminded me of a situation in Maryland last year involving a person taking video of police officers in action.

Khaliah Fitchette, a teenage girl in Newark, N.J., was riding the bus last year when cops got on to deal with a man who seemed drunk. Fitchette pulled out her cell phone thinking this might be a good time to shoot video.

When the police told her to turn off her phone, Fitchette refused. What happened next surprised her. A female officer pulled her off the bus and into her police car, erased the video and kept her for two hours before releasing her without pressing charges.

Now, Fitchette is suing the Newark Police Department for violating her civil rights with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union. (And this isn’t the only trouble that police department is in these days).

NPR’s story mentioned that the police in Newark aren’t the only ones trying to stop citizens from catching them on cell phone videos, or in the case of a Maryland man, on his helmet cam.

You might remember the story of Anthony Graber III, a motorcyclist who was pulled over by a state trooper, and happened to video it with his helmet camera. When Graber posted the video to YouTube, he was charged with breaking Maryland’s wiretapping law for recording an officer’s voice without his consent.

Harford County Circuit Judge Emory A. Plitt Jr. threw out the charges because he said the conversation between Graber and the officer was not considered private.

Opponents of taping cops say the recordings make it harder or less safe for them to do their jobs. Maybe that’s the case, or maybe it just makes them more conscious of their actions.

Gadgets aplenty at Consumer Electronics Show

Frank Gorman of Gorman & Williams was in Las Vegas last week for the annual Consumer Electronics Show. On Friday, the intellectual property lawyer offered an overview of the expo. Today, he provides a list of gadgets and products that grabbed his attention.

CES 2011 ended Sunday. More than 130,000 registered attendees walked through 1.5 million square feet of exhibit space looking at a wide range of consumer electronic products. While it is impossible to see everything CES has to offer, each person comes away with a sense of what’s hot, what’s not, what’s unique, and when to pass.

1. LG’s Smart TV. This wall-mounted, flat-screen, high-definition TV incorporates all the streaming entertainment and social networking features of your PC or laptop. The TV has a USB and RJ45 ethernet ports. You can download apps, send e-mails, stream a Netflix-provided movie, etc.

No keyboard is provided, but you could use a wireless keyboard or use an app that makes your iPhone keyboard work on the TV. There were several CES exhibitors promoting these “Smart TVs,” and this term has become generic. Check out LG’s offerings here.

Meanwhile, what happened to 3D TV?  It was the star of CES 2011 and was promoted again this year, especially by Sony, but 3D has not taken off the tarmac.

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First Amendment right to a cell phone?

As the The Daily Record’s city courts reporter, I’m quite familiar with the rigors (and failings) of courthouse security. I’ve had to empty my pockets and remove my belt countless times and, occasionally, I’ve had to run back to the office or to my car to drop off whatever prohibited electronic device I happened to be carrying. So I understand the hassle. But hassle isn’t usually grounds for a successful federal civil rights lawsuit, as a federal judge reminded an aggrieved Prince Frederick man earlier this month.

According to Harold Hodge Jr.’s suit, the trouble began on April 9 when he attempted to enter the Calvert County government building that hosts the district court. A guard manning the metal detector told Hodge to remove his belt and leave his cell phone outside. Hodge protested, citing the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Terry v. Ohio, but eventually complied with both requests. A similar series of events played out on several other occasions at the district court building and at the circuit court nearby before Hodge eventually filed suit on Aug. 30.

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The courts and the tweets

I’ve come to view the social norms of the courtroom as very similar to a house of worship. You dress up nice, speak in hushed tones and try not to snore during a sermon or closing argument.

I also know you don’t whip out your cell phone in either sanctuary. If you have to call someone or need to have an in-depth conversation, you step out into the hallway as far away from everyone else as possible. It’s both considerate and common sense.

I was thinking about this as I read Andy Green’s criticism of the Baltimore City Circuit Court’s ban on Twitter in the courthouse, prompted by the Dixon trial and verdict. As The Daily Record’s Official Dixon Verdict Tweeter, I guess I’m part of the reason why the ban was enacted.

My tweets, for the record, came from the hallway outside the courtroom. Granted, most of my tweeting was done while we were awaiting a verdict, so I wasn’t leaving the courtroom during any proceeding. But when court was in session, I would try to leave quietly during a break in the action, even if that was simply someone else speaking.

Of course, the nature of the Dixon trial meant there were at least a half-dozen people “quietly” leaving the courtroom at the same time as me. Judge Dennis M. Sweeney solved the problem on at least two occasions by allowing a group of reporters to sit in the back of the courtroom and leave to Tweet and report on his cue. Once we left the courtroom, though, we were not allowed back inside until the proceeding ended.

So while you’re “working” from home today, answer me this: How would you handle Twitter if you were a judge?

No improper venue for a lawyer’s joke?

Humor can be hard to come by in a federal witness murder trial in which one of the defendants faces the death penalty.

But this week in Baltimore, the judge and lawyers in the case of Patrick A. Byers Jr., charged with ordering the killing of Carl S. Lackl Jr., and Frank K. Goodman, who allegedly paid a Bloods gang member to do Byers’ bidding, have seized upon scarce opportunities for comic relief.

Just before trial began on Monday afternoon, William B. Purpura, one of Byers’ defense attorneys, walked over to members of the U.S. Attorney’s office who had come to watch their colleague’s opening statement.

“It’s not too late to give up,” he said with a grin.

On Wednesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney John F. Purcell Jr. apologized to the jury for fiddling with his BlackBerry, explaining that he was arranging for the attendance of witnesses, not checking MySpace.

“You’re not on Facebook, Mr. Purcell?” U.S. District Judge Richard D. Bennett asked from the bench.

The balding veteran prosecutor paused, then rejoined, “Not with this kind of face, no.”