UI TV show gives realistic view of judicial system

UI TV show gives realistic view of judicial system

CHAMPAIGN – For a dramatic and entertaining look at courtroom activity, watch "Law & Order."

For a realistic view of how the judicial system works, watch "Illinois Law."

It's a new TV show on legal issues, produced at the University of Illinois law school and hosted by Amy Gajda, who is a professor of both law and journalism.

The first show, which will air at 10 a.m. March 5 on WCIA, will look at judges – the coverage of recent U.S. Supreme Court nominations, how judges are selected and judicial campaigns, and the different levels of the judicial system and what types of cases are handled by each.

"A lot of people go a lifetime without every being in a courtroom, so the reality of it is a mystery," said U.S. Magistrate David Bernthal, a guest on the first show, which was taped Thursday morning at the law school. "Even people who are well-informed don't understand what we do. They get a lot of information, or misinformation, from drama television shows. This will reach people who watch television and it will be informative."

That's one of the show's purposes, said Dave Johnson, director of communications for the law school, who first pitched the idea for the show.

"It's really to educate the general public about the law, because there is so much interest in it," Johnson said. "When you open up the newspaper every day, if you count 10 stories, eight have legal implications."

Secondly, the show will promote the law school and its faculty, Johnson said, and provide a service to the community through education on legal issues.

"We have a terrific product and this is a natural outlet for it," he said. "With faculty as experts in so many different areas, we have an unlimited number of topics."

Possible future topics include tax reform or changes in bankruptcy law.

The 30-minute show will air six times this spring, every other Sunday morning beginning March 5. The plan is to air the program weekly during the fall semester.

"I was looking for a program that I thought would benefit the community, serve a need not being served, and educate people," said WCIA General Manager Russ Hamilton. "I am interested in the school of law and what I think they can bring to the communities."

Hamilton said he hopes people who watch the show have a greater understanding of issues in the news, and that the show raises questions for them to think about.

"I'd like it to have some type of meaning to the average Joe who is tuning in Sunday morning in Tolono or Champaign," he said.

Gajda worked as a television reporter and anchor and talk show host before going to law school. She does a weekly radio commentary, "Legal Issues in the News," on WILL-AM, and a weekly column on the same topic in The News-Gazette.

"Even before I became a lawyer, I was talking about the law and trying to make it accessible to people. This is something I've wanted to do for a very long time," she said of the TV show.

Gajda taped a second show on Thursday, on caring for the aging, which will air March 19. The issues covered in the show include paying for long-term care, Medicare drug benefits and pension insecurity.

"The practical implications are obvious," Johnson said. "It's something that affects everyone."

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