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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has floated a proposal to tax the media that are profiting from coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial.

On the surface, it seems ludicrous to suggest a governmental body charge the representatives of the public-the media-for the privilege of watching the public's own court system in action. But when you take a closer look at the proposal, and keep in mind the high cost of this trial: the proposal is still ludicrous.

We can sense the frustration of Los Angeles County officials. Beset by costly natural disasters, an increasing influx of illegal immigrants and taxpayer revolts, they see a way to grab a share of the money being generated by this trial-cum-circus. But legislative bodies and the courts are open to the public for very sound reasons, and limiting access through fees would set an unhealthy precedent.

Except perhaps for the sequestering of the jury, the Simpson murder trial would be equally expensive whether or not the media showed up. It's the tedious legal maneuvering that drags it out; perhaps a tax on the defense lawyers' healthy fees?

One Los Angeles County official compared "rights fees" for Simpson trial coverage to the fees paid for covering a sports event or the Academy Awards, and noted that some TV coverage is bringing in extra advertising dollars to the media. It's easy to see where that thinking takes us: A cash-strapped government pinches a high-profile person for a lurid crime, then opens the bidding for network coverage. Now they can get that new fire engine and maybe repair the water tower, too.

No, public trials are just that-public. You can't put a ticket window at the door to the public's own courtroom. Perhaps the county can earn some cash after the trial by dismantling the courtroom and selling pieces as souvenirs. By the time this trial's over, they might even qualify as antiques.

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