AP LA’s Anthony McCartney on the Joys of Covering Celebrity Courtroom Drama

Although there will be some fireworks during Katherine Jackson vs. AEG, this legal matter will in all likelihood not be as striking to AP entertainment reporter Anthony McCartney as the Conrad Murray trial. Speaking to FishbowlLA Tuesday morning ahead of a day of early jury selection for the Jackson-AEG battle, he cited last year’s Murray trial as one that stands out during his five-plus years with AP.

“The recording of Michael Jackson‘s voice that they played during the trial, during opening statements was one of the more stunning moments that I’ve handled as a court reporter,” McCartney remembers. “No one knew the tape existed.”

“So much of what happened in that Jackson case involved two people, and one of them was dead,” he continues. “So to hear from the deceased party, in the courtroom, was very haunting. [Prosecuting attorney] David Walgren was also extremely impressive. There was a closing argument that he gave, where he emphasized the refrain “poor Conrad Murray” to call out the excuses that Murray had made for his actions and Murray’s defense that he was persecuted and it wasn’t his fault. Very effective.”

Then there is Lindsay Lohan. McCartney has covered her ad nauseum for AP and when asked for his take on what ails her (pre-Tuesday night’s instantly infamous David Letterman interview), he points to something a judge once said.

“It’s gotten to the point where I absolutely refuse to predict what’s going to happen in a Lindsay Lohan court hearing,” he confesses. “One of the more surprising things one of her judges said, about a year and a half ago, was that after looking at all the psychological reports, she didn’t think that Lohan was an addict. She thought that her problems were psychological. I think that statement caught a lot of people by surprise.”

If the sign of a good celebrity justice reporter is the amount of legal documents piled high on their desk, then McCartney is a indisputable champ. He says his downtown LA office is an “utter disaster” that can only be rendered a bigger mess by a major earthquake.

Sources he acknowledges are key, not just because of the information they provide but also because of the geographical territory they cover. For example, McCartney says there are many times of the LA traffic day when he simply cannot get out to a Santa Monica hearing in a timely manner, thus forcing him to rely on a second pair of eyes and ears.

Speaking of once-removed, he agrees that far too many Web media outlets are guilty today of sloppily picking up on celebrity legal coverage by AP, The Hollywood Reporter and others. “I think you see that a lot with TMZ stories, where people absolutely follow the site’s take on something,” he suggests. “But if you actually go in and read the legal documents, you’ll see something that is much more couched in there.”

“There may be language that makes it less than clear. So I absolutely read every associated document, even if the article is by a reporter that I completely trust. That’s just what I think you would expect from a reporter for a wire service like AP or a major daily newspaper.”

Asked to name an attorney or two who has stood out over the years, McCartney says they all have their different styles. But he does remember a moment connected to the matter of Kanye West assaulting a photographer at LAX on September 11, 2008.

Blair Berk (pictured) represented him and went up against the City Attorney’s office,” McCartney recalls. “She made a very compelling argument that ended up getting the case dismissed. I do remember just sitting there and thinking, ‘This is why people hire Blair Berk.’ I have a great job; I get to watch great litigators lay out cases.”

Through it all, McCartney tries to comport himself the way his mentor at Santa Monica College taught him to. Former LA Times reporter Barbara Baird, who retired in 2008 (a year after McCartney started with AP), always stressed the importance of respect.

“Her journalism credos are still utmost in my mind,” McCartney explains. “That is, to approach the profession with a certain sense of empathy. You don’t have to yell and scream at people to get results.”

“Respect your sources, respect the people that you’re writing about. Even if you’re having a disagreement with one of those parties, come at it from a position of respect and not one where you’re just lashing out. I was a late bloomer to journalism, so to have an advisor at SMC like Barbara so early in my career, it was really formative and important.”

McCartney can be found on Twitter at @mccartneyAP.

[Photos of Lohan, Berk: Joe Seer/Shutterstock.com, LinkedIn]

@hollywoodspin rhorgan@gmail.com Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.