As paper newspapers continue to consolidate and transition to Internet-only formats, content continues to change as well. There is less direct observation of events by reporters and more presentation of press releases from official sources. Locally, that means that even the county’s almost daily newspaper doesn’t base a reporter at the courthouse.
In fact, the much smaller Union covers cases of interest to the north county more effectively. But we are all fortunate to have the benefit of an experienced reporter who spends most of his time moving between the courts. John Chiv writes a blog – Words Worth –that keeps readers updated on what is happening in our local courts.
Chiv has been a reporter and also does marketing and promotion for businesses. His acute interest in the courts apparently began with the case of Gary Lee Bullock, who is accused of the murder of Father Eric Freed on New Year’s Day, 2014. Chiv was an active parishioner and close friend of Freed; he saw him late the night of the murder and was waiting at the church the next morning to serve Mass.
Recently, he has been forthcoming with some of the details of his experience of the events. Bullock’s trial began last week with physical and photographic evidence being submitted and potential jurors being screened. Despite his personal connection, Chiv has been doing a remarkably objective job describing the progress of the case.
He has several times mentioned that he was the only spectator in court. Surely, he feels in some degree that he is standing for his friend and priest. Doing so, and sharing the results with others, may be a little help in resolving his own trauma.
In the more than two years since the death, there have been relatively few court proceedings to report. Chiv has roamed the corridors of the courthouse, checking in on all kinds of other cases. He typically updates his blog several times each weekday.
He appears to be respected by the attorneys. He sometimes asks for comments and shares the responses he receives. In short, he is an unpaid courthouse reporter, an insider with access to both public moments and the inevitable gossip which makes the place work.
The public gets the benefit of his hours of volunteer time representing us in the practice of what we hope is justice. We would know a lot less about what is going on in the courts without his hard work. He shines light on what might otherwise be overlooked.
Few of us have the time or interest to show up at a court proceeding unless we are directly involved. Despite efforts to improve the experience of jurors or prospective jurors, it can still be disruptive. In the Freed case, the evidence will be deeply disturbing.
Many jurors can’t afford to miss work for a long trial; most employers don’t pay for jury duty, or pay only a few days. Jurors who have vacations planned are expected to give them up unless they have pre-paid. And the new court administrator says a lot of people just don’t show up at all for jury service.
Retired people tend to be over-represented on juries because they don’t have to worry about missing work. In this case, religious beliefs may figure into jury selection, and older people are more likely to be religiously observant. There are plenty of reasons for prospective jurors to hope they won’t be selected for this trial.
There aren’t a lot of people who genuinely want to supplant law enforcement and the justice system and do the work themselves. But that doesn’t prevent them from criticizing the way it is done. Opinions that are based on fact are more useful than those formed on rickety frames of half-truth and rumor.
Local news outlets are swamped with reports of criminal activity and residents are anxious to hear that suspects are in custody. But all too often, they are swiftly released, and in some cases, rapidly arrested again on the same or similar charges. People want to feel that the system works, but it is all too obvious that it often doesn’t.
The Bullock case generates little sympathy for the defendant, who has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Freed was the epitome of an innocent victim, devoted to service. Many will believe Bullock was completely sane and is only using the insanity plea in an effort to avoid the consequences of his actions.
Others think he must have been crazy in order to even contemplate such a hideous crime. I’m not sure it matters, as long as he is unable to hurt anyone in the future. Whether that’s in prison or a mental hospital is not crucial; either would provide punishment, but the main thing is to protect others.
To read John Chiv’s posts, visit johnchiv.blogspot.com.
Elizabeth Alves thanks Chiv for his reports, and hopes the resolution of the Bullock case brings him some measure of peace. Comments and suggestions are welcome care of the Union or to email@example.com.