Behind the Curtain: How the Daily Herald covers courthouse news

  • Jim Baumann

    Jim Baumann

Posted4/5/2021 5:00 AM

Newspapers as a matter of course cover the courts, both criminal and civil.

But we tend to handle them in different ways.


Felony criminal charges are derived from a collaboration between police agencies and prosecutor's offices.

Police departments submit police reports to a prosecutor, who then vets the information and settles on a charge that he or she feels confident the office can successfully support in court.

Lawsuits, on the other hand, don't go through that vetting process.

First, you don't have to be a lawyer to file a civil suit. There is small claims court. Many landlords file eviction lawsuits themselves. And prisoners and jail inmates file lawsuits for themselves all the time.

Most of these cases we never write about. It's enough trying to keep up with criminal court.

Most of the civil cases we do report on come through an attorney.

In criminal cases, the burden of proving a defendant's guilt rests with the prosecution beyond a reasonable doubt.

In civil matters, the plaintiff has the burden of proving his case by a preponderance of the evidence -- a lesser test.

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That gives civil litigants more latitude, and it's why you see more shoot-the-moon claims in lawsuits.

Because of this, we tend to provide just the basics in the stories about civil suits we consider newsworthy: Who is suing whom and why.

In criminal cases, we tend to provide a more detailed narrative, because of the vetting process.

There are notable examples in which we have gotten more detailed with civil cases because of their breadth or notoriety. In big class action suits -- medical claims, for instance -- that involve many people, that's more likely.

In the case of the legal squabble between former Harvest Bible Chapel leader James MacDonald and former follower (and radio personality) Mancow Muller, it involves two well-known people and resulted from an ongoing story about the change of leadership at the church.

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