Kirby: Court cameras could concern contemptible cops
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It's been a week since video cameras have been permitted in Utah courtrooms. I have managed to avoid embarrassing myself for the record. It wasn't always like that.

In 1978, I was sentenced to a day in jail for contempt of court. It was highly embarrassing because I was a cop — on duty and in uniform.

I didn't actually spend the day locked up. I just had to report to the Tooele County Jail as a lesson in what would happen if the judge caught me eating in his courtroom again.

In my defense — and I do have one even though it's not very good — it was only an apple. Also, I was clear on the back row. And I was quiet. Sort of.

After working all night, I had to testify in a drunken driving case. Tired and starving, I grabbed an apple on the way out the door.

There were several cases ahead of mine when I arrived at the courthouse. While attorneys blathered, defendants sulked and the judge brooded, I hunkered down and ate. I tried to be careful.

Apparently I wasn't careful enough. After our case was finished and I was heading home to bed, the bailiff hauled me up to see the judge. The following is a recollected transcript of the proceedings.

JUDGE: "Officer Kirby, my courtroom is not a snack bar."

ME: "Your honor, the daily nutritional requirements of … um."

JUDGE: "I'm listening."

ME: "I rest my case."

I had to drive to the county lockup and report to the jailer, who called the judge's office to verify that his really scary point had been made. After that I was free to go.

Until now, only three people ever knew about this — me, the judge and the jailer, Bill Gochis, who thought it was hilarious and never let me forget it. He loved bringing it up whenever I brought a prisoner in.

BILL: "Don't feel bad. He used to be an inmate here, too."

This incident happened in the early days of video recording technology. There were barely video cameras anywhere, and none of them were in Utah courtrooms.

That's good because I would not have wanted this event recorded on a courtroom camera where it could have been reviewed later by my police chief, my wife or anyone else interested in learning just how big of an idiot I was on that particular day.

I certainly wouldn't have wanted any of the court proceedings available to the public from before I was a cop. I wasn't evil back then, but I was world-class stupid.

Now cameras are everywhere. It's actually possible to get caught on a store camera shoplifting a video camera, recorded again by the arresting officer's dash cam, then again while being booked, again in court and, finally, getting the crap beat out of you by fellow inmates.

Your friends and family will be able to follow your case from the comfort of their own homes. You won't be able to lie about how you almost beat the rap. Worse, all the embarrassing details of your case will become public knowledge.

It's one thing to tell everyone that you were found guilty because the judge was biased and another thing to have everyone know you went to jail just because you couldn't chew with your mouth closed.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.