A civil trial involving financial frauds allegedly committed by developer Kelly Gearhart will be streamed live as an instructional tool for attorneys and law schools.
The trial, estimated to last up to 90 days, is expected to begin with jury selection Monday. Once opening arguments begin, the entire trial will be streamed by Courtroom View Network, an organization based in New York and Atlanta.
“Seeing live attorneys in front of a real jury in a case like this is quite rare,” said David Siegel, director of courtroom relations with CVN.
The trial – Alpert v. Cuesta Title – involves eight parties representing hundreds of investors. They are suing Cuesta Title and Stewart Title for a ponzi scheme allegedly perpetrated by Gearhart that involved $73 million in 25 different real estate projects.
Gearhart, a former Atascadero Citizen of the Year who has since moved to Ohio, was later indicted on several fraud counts. James Hurst Miller, Jr., who owned the Atascadero-based lending firm Hurst Financial Group, pled guilty to four counts of fraud and money laundering for his involvement in the case. Heritage Oaks Banks reached a settlement earlier this week, but two title companies – Cuesta Title and Stewart Title – are headed for trial. Other defendants include Miller and his Hurst Financial Corporation.
Just days before jury selection is slated to begin, Superior Court Judges Charles Crandall approved CVN’s request to stream and record the trial.
Siegel said CVN has a research team that scans media stories for court action they might want to cover. Recent trials it has covered included a death penalty trial involving two victims in Florida and a San Diego County civil trial in which the plaintiffs contended that a school district promoted religious beliefs by inserting Ashtanga yoga into the school curriculum. At the same time it covers the Cuesta Title trial, it will cover a Los Angeles trial in which the plaintiff claims a Toyota Camry accelerated out of control, killing its driver.
CVN offers its service for a fee – the website lists $250 per day, $1,000 per week – and typically clients are law schools, industry analysts or attorneys who might handle similar cases.
The organization provides free streaming coverage to local media.
While high-profile criminal cases are often covered in the media, many civil cases are not, Siegel said, even though many end up with multi-million dollar verdicts.
“The civil court system is in many ways a black hole as far as news coverage,” he said.
The Gearhart case, which will be procedurally complex due to its many parties, represents a good educational tool, Siegel said. Once the trial is over, the footage will be added to CVN’s online archive, which includes hundreds of gavel-to-gavel recordings of high stakes civil trials – many which had no media coverage.
While much preparation goes into covering a trial, Siegel said, a last-minute settlement can derail everything.
“That’s the cost of doing business.”