An open letter to Miami-Dade Judge William Altfield, who is presiding over the Justin Bieber DUI case:
Your Honor, please accept our profound sympathies.
When you decided to become a judge, you never in your darkest hours imagined that one day a lawyer would stand before you in court and, wearing a straight face, utter the following words:
“My clients have no interest in seeing Mr. Bieber’s penis.”
So sayeth Deanna Shullman, an attorney representing the Associated Press and other media outlets seeking all police videos from the night the pop singer was arrested in Miami Beach.
Last week prosecutors released numerous videos of Mr. Bieber’s stay in jail, but held back several others that his lawyers had insisted would compromise his privacy. It has been reported that four or five videos exist of Mr. Bieber urinating into a container for drug testing.
The first question of compelling national interest, obviously, is whether Mr. Bieber’s bladder is really so enormous that the act of emptying it could not be recorded on a single video?
Perhaps there was only one sequence of urination captured by multiple police cameras. If so, the angle least embarrassing to Mr. Bieber should be selected so that the court can move on to more crucial First Amendment issues.
Under Florida’s Sunshine Law, all the police videos given as evidence to Mr. Bieber’s attorneys may be made available to the public. However, a privacy question has been raised regarding Mr. Bieber’s private-most parts, which might or might not be visible on the disputed clips.
Scott Ponce, an attorney for The Miami Herald, told the court: “I think the issue is do we see his penis or not? Under the public records rule, we redact what can be seen, and let the rest out. Put a black bar over it and let the rest out.”
If Your Honor concurs with this solution, the next point for debate is: Exactly what size of black bar should be digitally imprinted over Mr. Bieber’s penis?
His attorneys would probably argue that the bar should be large and imposing, to uphold the expectations of Mr. Bieber’s avid female fans. They would warn that positioning a small or even average-length bar over Mr. Bieber’s genitals would be humiliating to him and damage his stature as an international sex symbol.
Media attorneys would counter that the court’s job is not to inflame teen fantasies but rather to get out the facts of the case, large or small. They would ask for a black bar strictly sized to Mr. Bieber’s natural proportions.
The final decision would fall to you, Your Honor, and the heat of the spotlight will be like nothing you’ve ever experienced.
In the annals of this country’s long constitutional debate over the media’s role, the Justin Bieber Tinkling Case might someday be mentioned in the same breath as Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, WikiLeaks and the Edward Snowden disclosures.
Nah. Just kidding.
The truth, Your Honor, is that you out of all the judges got stuck with this particular tabloid turkey. It’s probably not the reason you went to law school, or why you became a judge.
Sympathies should likewise be extended to the prosecutors, who certainly have better things to do, and also to the taxpayers of Florida, who are paying for this farce.
As was pointed out in your court, the shy and emotionally fragile Mr. Bieber has posted a previous urination photo on his own website, including the sight of his own bare bottom.
Yet here you sit, Your Honor, prohibited by judicial decorum from groaning or even rolling your eyes as lawyer after lawyer stands before you gravely discussing which parts of Mr. Bieber the public is entitled to view.
Should you decide to release the urine-test videos without protective black bars, most news sources (including this one) will ask their I.T. staffs to fog up those portions before posting the clips.
Which will get a zillion hits, anyway, because lots more people would rather watch a pop star pee than watch upheaval in Ukraine. This is lamentable, but true.
All we ask, Your Honor, is that you consider the heavy precedent to be set by your upcoming ruling. Mr. Bieber won’t be the last celebrity to get busted for DUI on South Beach, so this won’t be the last urination video to be litigated.
What would Oliver Wendell Holmes do? Or Judge Judy?
Be strong, Your Honor. Be wise.
(Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for The Miami Herald. Readers may write to him at: 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla., 33132.)
AFP Photo/Joe Raedle