Federal courts beat: Reporters get rare treatment in court

  • Article by: DAN BROWNING
  • Star Tribune
  • May 11, 2012 - 6:23 PM

An unusual thing happened last week in the marathon federal trial of three Twin Cities men accused of defrauding investors in the second-largest Ponzi scheme in Minnesota history.

During a brief break, Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis summoned me and St. Paul Pioneer Press reporter John Welbes into his chambers for a meeting with him and his staff.

"I'm not going to talk about the trial," Davis said as he sat down.

Then he said something that reporters rarely hear.

He said reporters are the eyes and ears of the public, and he wanted to know if there was anything he could do to make our job easier, so that the public is adequately informed.

Welbes and I were momentarily stunned.

Davis immediately ruled out the obvious requests. No cameras would be allowed; no tape recorders, he said. He said he sometimes has let reporters go through exhibits introduced at trial, but in this case, there's such a mountain of evidence that he didn't want to risk things getting jumbled.

He asked if we could see the exhibits clearly on the large-screen TVs in the courtroom. We said we could.

I asked if we could go through the exhibits after the trial concludes, likely in mid-June. He said he'd look into it.

Welbes wondered whether we could post real-time updates to Twitter.

Davis said too many trials have been upended by jurors tainted by social media. Besides, with the regular breaks in the trial, there's nothing to stop us from stepping outside to dash off updates, he said.

More than 700 people -- mostly retirees -- invested $194 million in a bogus currency investment program run by convicted fraudster Trevor Cook. There's keen interest in what happens to the men charged with promoting the scheme.

Davis underscored that we're the way most people find out what happens in the case.

Anything else? Davis asked.

We could think of nothing to say other than, "thank you."

Dan Browning • 612-673-4493

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