Federal hearings are not like what you see on TV

Sitting on an uncomfortable church-like pew in a freezing room, I heard the droning of voices as cold air wafted throughout the room. I wondered what time it was, it felt like hours since I last checked. I reached for my cell phone to check the time, only to remember I only brought a reporters notebook and a pen into the room. I craned my neck and squinted my eyes to read the clock perched high on the wall and sighed; I had been there for 8 hours. I eyed the cushioned chairs at the front of the room with envy as I shifted around trying to find a comfortable way to sit on the hard bench. Suddenly, I heard a wrapper crinkle and I looked down and saw a hand offering me a mint. The hand belonged to an older woman who gave me a look of understanding of my discomfort and smiled. I nodded in silence as I accepted the gift. Through the silence of it all, I just made a friend.

Where was I? Covering my first federal hearing and it was less exciting than I had expected. I had visions of passionate arguments, screaming lawyers, and shouts of objections filling the room. Instead I listened to complicated tax and legal jargon that made me wish I had paid more attention in my college law classes. As a rookie reporter, it was my first time covering a hearing and I was very unprepared. The defense and prosecution were presenting a wealth of information, so much so that I wasn’t sure what would be relevant at the end of the day. I tried my best to side glance at the other journalists sitting in the pews to see when they were writing tid bits down. I felt a little bit like a student in class, taking cues from the smart kids over when to take notes.

Lawyers meticulously went over pages and pages of tax sheets as the hours drug on, I started to stare at the judge. I dug into my memory to try and remember what I learned in my nonverbal communications classes to try and read what the judge was thinking, I didn’t get far. The judge kept the same face for much of the trial with little reaction. As the three lawyers questioned witnesses with questions peppered with tax law terms, I yearned for my iPhone so I could google what the different tax forms meant. But in federal courtrooms, phones and recording devices are prohibited. Which raises challenges for a reporter whose medium is television.

During one of the breaks, I spoke with a print journalist about how lucky she was that she only needed words to tell the story of the day. I jokingly suggested our station use puppets to reenact the story, interestingly enough I found a video where a station actually did this! Check it out:


Every once in a while the judge would announce a five minute break and I just wanted to shout, “No! Keep going and reach a ruling!” But the hours drug on and at the end of the 8 hour hearing, they announced that we would meet back at the courthouse at 9am.

Day two of the hearing was just as long, but this time I was prepared for the ordeal. This time I knew to not take pages and pages of notes because I would only need to report a general wrap up of the day for the 5pm and 6pm news. I also was wise enough to wear warm clothes and a thick fluffy winter coat that could also serve as a cushion on the hard pews. At the end of the 7th hour of the second day, the closing arguments were presented. They were passionate and exciting to watch, exactly what you see on TV! Now I know, that in movies they skip right to the exciting parts, but that’s not the case in real life.


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