A judge's cable-access program sheds light on the courtroom, with topics ranging from drunken driving laws to what it's like to be on jury duty.
When Wright County District Judge Steve Halsey decided to start a cable TV show on legal topics in 2004, he joked that he was going to call it, "Dude, Where's My Courthouse?"
He was talked out of it.
But "The District Court Show," produced for Quad Cities Cable TV in Champlin, still started off with a bang. Halsey's first guest was Eric Magnuson, who later became chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. The show's topic: judicial selection.
Nearly 60 shows later, Halsey, a former mayor of Anoka, has covered subjects ranging from what happens if you're on jury duty to the basics of drunken-driving laws. Each year, he does a show on teen driving safety.
Halsey, 59, had experience doing simple cable access shows as mayor and as an Anoka City Council member when cable came to the area in the 1980s.
After nearly two years as a judge, he contacted the executive director of Quad Cities Cable and discussed doing a show similar to "Meet Your Court," which Hennepin County Judge Kevin Burke had hosted for several years.
Halsey's show has no budget and a staff of several producers and camera operators. He does six or seven half-hour programs a year, taking summers off because it's hard to get guests, he said.
"I admit I have no idea how many people watch the show," he said. "It's on at all different times, including 2 a.m. Some people probably watch when they can't sleep."
The show's guests are usually judges and lawyers, but Halsey makes sure the topics are relevant for the average person and not big public policy issues. His interest in teen driving safety came from his wife, who is an adviser to the Students Against Drunk Driving chapter at Anoka High School.
Comfortable with cameras
Over the years, Halsey has learned that lawyers and judges are naturals in front of the camera.
The show Halsey had the most fun hosting was about cameras in the courtroom. The three attorneys on the show argued among themselves while he just sat back and listened, he said.
Michael Roith, a former Anoka County judge, has been Halsey's Ed McMahon for many of the shows. There is almost no editing, and Halsey said he has received little feedback. Tapes and DVDs are sent for broadcast to nine other cable systems in the eight counties of the Tenth Judicial District, which Halsey serves.
The judge is careful to keep the shows general in nature because he can't talk about pending cases or cases that might be appealed.
As chairman of the Public Trust & Confidence Committee of the Minnesota Judicial Branch, he says outreach is very important.
He took educating the public to a "new media" level last year by starting the Minnesota Judicial Podcast. They are five- to 10-minute audio podcasts covering the same subjects as his show.
He's made 41 of them, and there have been 4,800 downloads, including from as far away as China, he said. Most of the downloads in the United States are coming from San Antonio, Texas. He has no idea why.
"I want to keep doing the show," he said. "I just need new topics to keep the people interested."
David Chanen • 612-673-4465