Hopes dim for airing Md. high court proceedings

Producer unable to get other markets to show Baltimore cable series

April 24, 2001|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

A pilot program airing selected Maryland Court of Appeals proceedings on a Baltimore public access channel will not turn into a regularly scheduled show as the producer had anticipated.

Leonard J. Kerpelman, executive producer of Only Shakespeare Production Co., had hoped the show would air on cable access channels in the Baltimore area weekly or monthly, and wanted the high court to help promote the show in other markets.

But a spokeswoman for the state judiciary system said it's not the court's role to advocate the program, and Kerpelman said it's not worth his time to produce the show only for Baltimore.

"The principal thing that was attractive was the ability of the court to break into all of the various county public access channels," said Kerpelman, a former lawyer.

Three one-hour shows aired last month on Baltimore cable Channel 5, showing oral arguments in cases with issues including search and seizure of a car and taxation of out-of-state long-distance calls. The shows were taped with no additional lighting, using a stationary camera at one side of the courtroom. The broadcast showed the judges at an odd angle, with the camera focusing mainly on the tops of their heads and piles of paperwork.

Kerpelman said he talked to other cable access stations to get them to air the show but was unsuccessful. He had hoped the high court could facilitate discussions with the stations.

But Sally W. Rankin, a spokeswoman for the state judiciary system, said it would be inappropriate for the court to endorse or advocate products that are produced by individual companies. She said Kerpelman can ask to have a camera in the courtroom to continue taping the shows. "His request would be considered like anybody else's," she said.

Kerpelman, who practiced law from 1950 to 1989 and has argued cases before the state's highest court, had approached Chief Judge Robert M. Bell about making the pilot series. Kerpelman said he wanted to offer interesting, intellectual content to cable access viewers.

The Court of Appeals welcomed the educational opportunity. Since Bell became chief judge, he has strived to make the court more accessible to the public.

"We wanted to do whatever we could to educate the public," Rankin said.

But the task of filming the court's proceedings also is time-consuming for Kerpelman, who tapes Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley's news conferences and the city's Board of Estimates meetings for Baltimore cable access. He funds his projects through grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and an anonymous local donor.

Kerpelman said he will air at least two more shows to fulfill his promise to viewers. "I liked it. It was a very informative series, and the kind of thing that should be done on local television and is not done," he said. "It's a loss -- the information that is readily gained from watching the show."

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