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Judge expects cameras to be OK’d for courtrooms

Coming soon to a television near you: Lincoln County CircuitCourt proceedings.

“Cameras in the courtroom are going to happen,” said KeithStarrett, the senior judge for the 14th Circuit Court District thatincludes Lincoln, Pike and Walthall counties.

Speaking Tuesday to the Brookhaven Lions Club, Starrettpredicted that cameras would be allowed in the courtroom in thenot-too-distant future. State supreme court rule proposals allowingcameras, which are currently prohibited in courtrooms, are in thefinal stages of adoption.

“I expect by the end of the year, we’ll have cameras in thecourtroom,” said Starrett, who has in the past expressedreservations about the devices.

Regarding Lincoln County, the judge envisioned a small,unobtrusive camera in the back of the courtroom. The proceedings,he said, could then be broadcast over a local cable televisionchannel.

Mentioning divorces — which are a chancery court matter — asan example, Starrett said there are some things that do not need tobe broadcast. He hoped judges would utilize discretion in suchinstances.

“The judge would have the authority to cut the cameras off incertain cases,” Starrett said.

Cameras in the courtroom was one of several topics Starrettaddressed during a brief speech at the noon meeting. He encouragedclub members to take an interest in legal and other courthouseproceedings.

“A lot of things at the courthouse affect your lives,” Starrettsaid.

Starrett said court is an expensive but necessary part of countygovernment. He mentioned a capital murder case in Pike County thatdoubled the circuit court’s budget for the year and another casethere that cost over $125,000.

“You’ve got two options: you can let people go, or you can trythem,” Starrett said.

The judge touted the public defender system that utilizesattorneys on a part-time basis to defend indigent clients. Incomparison to the previous appointed defense attorney system,Starrett estimated the public defender’s office saves the county$75,000 to $100,000 a year.

“What we have here is working very, very well, and it iscost-effective,” Starrett said.

Starrett touched on his drug court program that he said savesthe state over $1 million a year by not having to incarcerate drugoffenders. Drug court is a strict program that requires weeklyreporting for program participant.

Starrett’s drug court, the first in the state, began in 1999. Ithas since been implemented in three other districts and is in thebeginning stages in three more.

Pending legislation in this year’s legislative session wouldprovide guidelines for drug court to be implemented statewide.Starrett complimented Dist. 92 Rep. Dr. Jim Barnett and Dist. 39Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith’s efforts.

“They have lead the charge in the legislature to make thisprogram statewide,” Starrett said.

Starrett has recently implemented a similar program foralcohol-related driving under the influence offenders. DUI court isunder the direction of Pike County Judge John Price, who can beappointed by Starrett as a special master for Lincoln and WalthallCounty DUI cases.

“We don’t need to underestimate the problems of alcohol in thisdistrict,” Starrett said.

DUI court, the first one like it in the country, has had 19participants since its inception last April. Of those, 18 are stillin the program, and the other had his sentence end.

Starrett compared DUI court success to recidivism statisticsthat showed over 50 percent of DUI defendants sentenced to housearrest get caught using alcohol again.

The judge said DUI court statistics will be studied at the endof the first and second years. He said those statistics could bethe basis for program implementation elsewhere.

“Our district could have a profound effect on how felony DUIsare dealt with around the country,” Starrett said.