Andrea Rondeau column: The trials of court coverage

Covering court, while a fascinating assignment, is extremely time-consuming for reporters.

Sometimes we get asked why we don’t cover court more often.

It’s true that we normally reserve court coverage strictly for things like murder trials, or other high-profile criminal matters. The biggest reason for that is time.

Covering court, while a fascinating assignment, is extremely time-consuming for reporters. Here at the Citizen we have a small newsroom where reporters are expected to turn out at least several stories per day. Court throws a wrench in the works. It cannot, and will not, be rushed.

At larger newspapers, the court beat is often exclusive. A reporter assigned to cover court does that and only that. Such a reporter can sometimes, if there are multiple cases of interest before the courts at one time, spend the day at the courthouse and come back late in the afternoon and file a couple of items. But if there is something big going on, a court reporter will spend an entire day on one story. And because of how court works, they may not be able to file much of anything at all if publication bans forbid it.

Whole days in court can be lost to voir dire proceedings (similar to in camera, or private discussions at council meetings) which cannot be reported, as a judge is weighing whether information is relevant and/or too prejudicial to either go to a jury, or be considered by the judge in deciding the case. Voir dire can include arguments from lawyers, but also sometimes exhaustive testimony from witnesses. So it’s possible that an entire day’s worth of time and work will result in nothing more than a brief, explaining why a trial has ground to a halt and that no further information may be reported at this time. But often reporters must remain in the courtroom to hear the voir dire arguments, as they may indeed be allowed to be made public. One never knows until the end which it will be.

Reporter Robert Barron faced such a situation this week as he was in court covering the murder trial of Colin John, the Chemainus man accused of killing Derek Descoteau and seriously injuring his girlfriend Janelle Guyatt in 2016. The judge must decide whether John is mentally fit to continue the trial that has already begun.

As a small newspaper, we simply don’t have the luxury of having a full-time court reporter, and so we must limit our coverage to the big stuff, like this.

But if you know of something that’s going down in court that you think we should know about, we’re always happy to hear from you.

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