Louisiana attorney Christian D. Chesson was sentenced to three days in jail after a judge accused the former district attorney candidate of video recording in a courtroom during a hearing.
“While you were in courtroom, I observed you of taking video and asked you to approach the bench,” Judge Guy Bradberry said to Chesson during a hearing last Tuesday. “You said you had concerns about courtroom crowding and how ingress and egress was being addressed.”
Chesson said he was having trouble with his phone that day and inadvertently turned on the flashlight feature. He denied recording anything.
“I apologize to anyone who thinks I was videoing,” Chesson said. “I didn’t know what proceeding was underway. I was just waiting for my turn. In a panoramic picture you have to wave it. I didn’t know my flashlight was on. It was inappropriate and unintentional. I now know the matter that was underway (and) how they must have felt.”
Following Chesson’s apology, Judge Bradberry suspended two days of his sentence and gave Chesson credit for one day served.
Bradberry had Chesson jailed the previous day when he showed up late to a hearing, which was a violation of due process, according to Chesson’s attorney, John Green.
“My point is that when you’re going to hold somebody in contempt they have to have due process. You have to tell them, number one, what they did wrong. Number two, when they did it wrong and number three, what sanction you’re looking for, what kind of punishment you’re looking for. We got none of those notices. We’re going to appeal,”said Green.
Chesson was jailed Monday after being late to court but the Third Circuit Court of Appeal ordered him released last night.
“Even if it’s contempt for being late, you’re entitled to be heard. He could have apologized,”said Green.
Bradberry’s wrath came after he thought he saw Chesson recording video as he was handing out a sentence on a rape case as two of the rape victims sat in the courtroom.
Louisiana has very restrictive rules on bringing in cameras into the courtrooms, which can be read here, requiring media to put in requests at least 20 days before a hearing and “reasonable notice” for hearings that are not scheduled that far in advanced.
Judge Bradberry also ordered Chesson to give young lawyers a lecture on “professionalism,” delete anything that may be on his phone and donate 10 hours to the literacy council.
“I find this (matter) over. I see no reason why you cannot continue to be an outstanding member of this bar,” said Bradberry, alluding to the potential damage he had done to Chesson’s standing in the Bar and his ability to practice law.
Chesson, who ran unsuccessfully for Calcasieu Parish District Attorney last year against a two-term incumbent, runs a popular Facebook page where some of his supporters are saying the judge’s actions are political. A month before the election, he accused his opponent, John DeRosier, of using tax money to pay for campaign billboards.
While courts have ruled there are “time, place and manner restrictions” on the First Amendment, which apply to the courtrooms under the argument that they may interfere with a defendant’s right to a fair trial, the courts need to begin changing with the times, which is why PINAC is currently suing the State of Florida for the public’s right to record in courthouses – a public space.