Judging Judy

Media Mob special Washington correspondent Chris Shott reports:

As reporters jockeyed for the few remaining seats in U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan’s packed Washington courtroom, Brian Bennett offered up his excuse to cut in line.”I’m from Time magazine, the defendant,” Bennett told security officers. “I’m covering the trial. Can I get in?”

Time wasn’t exactly the defendant anymore; soon enough, Bennett’s colleague Matt Cooper wouldn’t be one either. Nevertheless, Bennett got a seat.

More than 70 other journalists and observers, meanwhile, were relegated to a spare courtroom, where proceedings in the case against Cooper and the New York Times’ Judy Miller were broadcast over a grainy PA system.

Through the speakers, the overflow press heard Cooper’s tale of last-minute deliverance–the “personal consent” of his mystery source to dissolve their confidentiality agreement. “I am prepared to testify,” Cooper said.

Miller was not. “I cannot break my word to stay out of jail,” she told Judge Hogan. “I don’t want to go jail,” she added. “And I hope you won’t send me.”

Picking up on Judge Hogan’s Lewis Carroll citation the previous week, Miller’s attorney Robert Bennett argued that the contempt case against his client was like something from Alice in Wonderland. “Judith Miller never committed a crime,” he said, and “never wrote an article.” Incarceration, Bennett said, would do nothing to break her defiance of the court’s order. “She is not gonna reveal her source,” he said.

But Bennett suggested that his unbreakable client be spared jail and sentenced to home detainment. He had two contractors on hand, he said, to set it up, should it please the court. At the very least, he said, the court should send Miller somewhere other than the “overcrowded” D.C. jail–where, he added, “we seriously believe that Ms. Miller’s safety would be in jeopardy.” The defense team proposed the female-friendly Arlington Detention Center as an alternative.

Hogan, though, ruled that Miller was “an actor in the commission of a crime.” The judge also rejected the argument that Miller’s pledge of silence should render any actual incarceration moot. That stance, Hogan said, was “like a child saying, ‘You can spank me, but I’m still gonna take that piece of chocolate cake and eat it.’”

“Talk about Alice in Wonderland,” the judge said.

Miller would be jailed, the judge said, “as long as she continues to defy the court order.” At that, reporters jumped out of their seats, flipped open their cell phones and headed out the door.

But Hogan went on, agreeing to spare Miller the rigors of the D.C. jail, in favor of an unspecified “suitable jail within the metropolitan area.”

Afterward, reporters from the overflow room scrounged eyewitness details from the ones who’d made it into the courtroom. Two women described for the press-on-press gaggle how a trio of U.S. marshals had escorted Miller out through a side door.

Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse under a statue of Civil War general George Gordon Meade, the Times‘ executive editor, Bill Keller, called Miller’s sentencing “a chilling conclusion to an utterly confounding case.”

Miller’s attorneys had offered the possibility that the case might not reveal that any crime had taken place.”I don’t know that no crime has been committed,” said First Amendment specialist Floyd Abrams, one of Miller’s lawyers. But if so, it “would be a terrible irony,” he added.

During his own turn at the podium, Cooper called it “a sad day for journalism.”

Questions followed. “Who is your source?” one reporter asked.

Cooper remained silent.