Welcome to Completely Legal

We hope that this blog gives you an insiders look behind the courthouse doors of the Lower Hudson Valley.

When people ask me what it’s like covering murder trials and other legal matters for a living, my answer is always the same — real courtrooms do not work like the ones on television. No where is this more evident than on “Law & Order” which I think is now the longest-running courtroom drama on TV. When I watched the premiere last week, I laughed thinking how much easier my job would be if trials were this quick and as easy. I envy L&O’s fictional newspaper reporters.

But L&O has influenced the collective cultural opinion of the court system so much, judges here have to remind people coming for jury duty that L&O and other TV trials won’t be like the trial they’re about to sit through.

To illustrate that point, here are some differences between “Law & Order” and your typical high-profile homicide trial in the Lower Hudson Valley:

Time from arrest to trial
L&O: 30 minutes
LHV: 1-2 years

Length of trial
L&O: 13-15 minutes
LHV: 3-5 weeks

Opening statements
L&O: Occasionally, for a few seconds
LHV: Always, for many, many minutes

Number of prosecution witnesses
L&O: 3-4
LHV: 30-40

Cross-examination
L&O: 30 seconds
LHV: 30 minutes to 2 days

Leading witnesses
L&O: Frequently, without protest from opposing counsel
LHV: Rarely, and always with strong objections

Closing arguments
L&O: 1 minute
LHV: 1-2 hours

Verdicts
L&O: Musical accompaniment
LHV: Silence, except for crying relatives

And finally, despite our logo, judges around here don’t use gavels. I’ve yet to see a single one sitting on a judicial bench in the Westchester County Courthouse. Tim says that out of the nearly 60 district and magistrate judges in the Southern District of New York, only one — Judge Deborah Batts in Manhattan — actually bangs a gavel.

With all that said, I still plan to watch Law & Order every week. It’s great entertainment, and it doesn’t remind me of work at all.

Rebecca Baker

Rebecca Baker joined The Journal News in March 2004. She covers Eastchester, Bronxville and Tuckahoe, and was previously the state and county courts reporter in Westchester County. In prior jobs, she covered the Town of Greenburgh and Rockland County government and politics. Before coming to The Journal News, she was a municipal reporter for newspapers in New Haven, Conn. and Warren, Ohio.