The hearings for the Darren Mack criminal case have begun. Gary Hengstler, who created the National Center for the Courts and Media at the University of Nevada, Reno, has been chosen to work with the court as media liaison. His job is to make sure that the media and courts both get what they are allowed by law. The Mack case has already captured the national media’s attention, and if the coverage keeps up, Nevada’s courts could be swamped by reporters and photographers vying for the story.
Why are you qualified for this position?
I studied journalism at Ball State University in Ohio. I graduated in 1969 (David Letterman’s class) and worked on a 5,000 circulation Portland Commercial Revue. After six months, I became the managing editor, the youngest ever at the time. In 1980, I moved to the Ohio Chronicle Telegram and decided to go to law school. I put the paper out in the morning, clerked at a law office in the afternoon and drove two hours to law school, drove home and studied until I went to sleep. In the morning, I started it all over. I completed law school in three years because they allowed me to take extra classes. Once I graduated, I practiced law in Ohio and set a precedent in an Ohio Supreme court case. In 1985, I moved to Austin, Texas, and edited a legal newspaper that Time Warner bought. After that, I moved to Chicago and became editor of the ABA journal. Out of all the things, that appealed to me the most because critics said I changed it from a trade journal to a general interest magazine. It is the world’s largest legal magazine. I spent 14 years as editor of the journal. In 2000, the National Judicial Committee received a grant from the Donald W. Reynolds foundation, and in the wake of the O.J. Simpson trial with the tension between the courts and media, decided to create a center to work out problems. I was chosen to head it because of my experience with journalism and the courts. Both lawyers and journalists could trust me.
Sounds like you have had many interesting experiences.
I met Ken Starr before he worked on the Clinton scandal. He had aspirations of going on the Supreme Court. I told him not to take the case because it would ruin his chances. Both Democrats and Republicans wouldn’t approve him. I got the last interview with Thurgood Marshall, and he only gave six during his time as Supreme Court justice. During the tail end of the Bosnian War, a missile hit a trolley that I had just gotten off of, and I had my camera and took some graphic pictures of the event. I’ve known Harriet Miers since 1985 in Texas. I have worked with the judges from the Kobe Bryant trial.
How will you fulfill your role in the Mack case?
There is the anticipation of a huge onslaught of reporters. We don’t know if that will pan out, depending on other national issues at the time. If it does get like the Scott Peterson trial, someone needs to be a link to reporters. There is construction downtown—with 10 to 15 satellite trucks, we have to figure where to put everyone. We need to figure out where to put all of the reporters in the hall to keep them from disrupting other courtrooms. They asked me to minimize media interference and still provide enough information. Judges can’t talk about pending cases. I have to be very careful. In court, everyone tries to preserve the fairness, the presumption of innocence.
Is Mack guilty?
In some blogs, journalists have already made up their minds. The burden of proving beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty falls on the prosecution. If the prosecution does not prove, then under our system, he must be acquitted.