Judge clarifies media rule for Monsanto trial
WINFIELD, W.Va. -- The judge in the huge class-action pollution trial against Monsanto issued an order clarifying permissible media coverage of the trial.
Mercer Circuit Judge Derek Swope said he will allow cameras and audio equipment in the courtroom as permitted by the West Virginia Trial Court Rules, which govern, among other things, media coverage.
Only one still camera and one video camera will be allowed in the courtroom each day and cannot be set up or taken down while court is in session, Swope wrote.
"The various media outlets can work out the coverage between themselves. If a long-term agreement cannot be worked out, the first source to report to the Courtroom Bailiff will be allowed to cover the courtroom proceedings for that day," Swope wrote.
Swope's order forbids the media from filming or photographing jurors and says that no coverage in the courtroom is allowed until a jury has been selected and placed.
The court referred further media inquiries about coverage of the trial to Jennifer Bundy, the public information officer at the West Virginia Supreme Court.
A national media organization, Courtroom View Network (CVN) headquartered in Atlanta, had requested they be permitted to continuously stream coverage of the trial over the Internet. Swope denied their request last month, noting that the proceedings would be shown via closed circuit to an off-site remote viewing area in the old courtroom in the Putnam County Courthouse.
David Siegel, director of court relations for CVN, said Tuesday that after reviewing Swope's order about media coverage, "unless we hear otherwise, we're going to assume we're approved to cover the trial." Siegel wrote an email to the Gazette.
Siegel said he believes Swope gave local television stations the network's information to contact about pooling coverage. He said the network has been in contact with several television stations, which have agreed to allow the network to film the trial and provide them access to their coverage.
"He wouldn't have asked the fox/abc guys to contact us to arrange pool coordination if we were still denied," Siegel wrote.
Swope was not available for comment.
Jury selection began last Tuesday, and courthouse insiders said nine jurors had been cleared to serve as of last Friday afternoon. A total of 28 jurors must be qualified before lawyers select 12 to serve. The trial is expected to last three to six months.
The plaintiffs in the case are thousands of current and former Nitro residents who claim that Monsanto polluted their town during the days when it made the Vietnam-era defoliant Agent Orange at a nearby facility.
The lawsuit seeks medical monitoring for at least 5,000 -- and perhaps as many as 80,000 -- current and former Nitro residents.
Reach Kate White at email@example.com or 304-348-1723.