Friday, August 27, 2004

Judge Kitchen hears a plea

The Todd Bertuzzi assault trial provided its first appearance of the principle player on Thursday, as the Vancouver Canuck Assistant Captain made his plea in a British Columbia court. With four words, “not guilty, your honour” Bertuzzi set in motion the legal proceedings that will become the focus of the Hockey world for the next little while. The trial to determine is Bertuzzi’s actions on the ice at GM place last march against Colorado Avalanche Steve Moore promises to be a media show along the lines of the Kobe Bryant trial. Already news agencies are making plans to apply for permission to have a camera present during the actual trial once it gets under way.

Bertuzzi’s appearance Thursday, his first since the charges were laid, was a short lived affair. With his wife by his side and his lawyer in tow, Bertuzzi quickly arrived, stepped out of his SUV and into courtroom and then left. Bertuzzi did all his talking in the court, having nothing to say to the assembled media, fans and casual observers gathered outside the Law Courts in Vancouver. Radio stations interrupted their programming with “bulletins”, one when he arrived, the other when he left. Television stations had the cameras rolling each one striving to capture the seriousness of the situation with a gripping visual. One wonders how the voracious Vancouver newspapers will handle the story; expect front page photos and in-depth coverage of what amounted to about a ten minute event.

With his plea entered the next phase of the trial will be to set a date for the proceedings to continue. That will take place next Wednesday when the lawyers gather once again in front of the judge to set forth their timetable.

The crown attorney is seeking a summary conviction which means there will be no preliminary hearing and no jury pool required the case will be heard by a judge alone. Should Bertuzzi find himself convicted, the most his sentence could be would be eighteen months. A situation that a number of players surveyed on Thursday wouldn’t want to see. Contacted at the Team Canada training camp, team mate Ed Jovanovski said he was fully behind his assistant captain and felt that the situation had been dealt with fairly by the league. Joe Sakic, who is the captain of the Avalanche and a team mate of Moores, likewise echoed similar sentiments feeling that these incidents should not end up in the courts.

With a possible labour dispute on the horizon it would be interesting to see the status of many of the possible witnesses to the incident. The judge mentioned that if the league solved their difficulties and had a season some of the witnesses would be scattered around the various NHL cities. An even worse scenario might be if the season doesn’t go ahead, who knows where the witnesses might end up if they have to find work elsewhere.

Regardless, with a plea of not guilty the trial will now go ahead. With the very likely scenario of no on ice action to keep the media occupied, Bertuzzi may find that his case is THE only hockey news story of the fall. If he thought he was under the microscope before, things just got magnified even more. This case has all the potential of becoming a media circus, a situation that will benefit no one. The competitive nature of the media in Vancouver means this will be the lead story for the duration of the trial. It will be interesting to see if the coverage will reflect a sensible balanced presentation of facts or a sensationalized tabloid style of run away muckraking.

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