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New video series shows reality of courts

People at the courthouse get so used to seeing news reporters at the most sensational cases that they’re surprised, and seem a little nervous, when I show up for a routine hearing. But that’s what I’ve been doing the past couple of months.

It’s part of preparing “Common Law,” a new video series that begins tomorrow on this blog. It aims to show the human drama in the daily court cases that have an impact on people’s lives.

We will begin by focusing on a judge, a lawyer and two sheriffs’ deputies who have agreed to share in our experiment. We hope you’ll learn about how each of them go about doing their jobs and the people and cases they face every day.

You’ll meet:

Sedgwick County District Judge David Kaufman, who has been on both sides of the aisle as a public defender and prosecutor before donning the robe.Lacy Gilmour, who joined the public defenders office three years ago out of law school, after growing up in a household where she saw her father go to prison.Dioane Gates and David Rank, deputies with the Sedgwick County Sheriffs’ Department and two of the many guards tasked with keeping the criminal courts safe every day.The people accused of, and touched by, crimes in Wichita.

We hope to add others who work at the courthouse in this continuing series.

I’ll keep covering the high-profile crimes that hit our city, including our live Twitter updates. But we hope that with this series, you’ll learn more from those inside the criminal justice system about the cases that fill the dockets of a courthouse in middle America every day.

We haven’t found anything quite like this, but we have to give a tip of the cap to a couple of inspirations.

One is Steve Bogira’s book, “Courtroom 302,” about a year inside a courtroom in Chicago. Bogira convinced me that even the small cases can have a big impact and reminded me of so much that I miss reporting each day.

Another is Courthouse Confessions, the blog by photographer Steven Hirsch, who stands outside Manhattan criminal court and captures the stories of those who pass through its doors.

Those prompted me and Katie Lohrenz,’s online content producer, to begin asking: What would happen if we a regular series of short videos about the routine happenings of the courthouse? Would anyone watch?

Assistant Metro Editor Jillian Cohan decided it was worth and try and volunteered as a co-producer.

We also scored original soundtrack music composed by Wichita jazz musician Adam Walker.

We hope you’ll watch. We hope you’ll give us feedback.

If you have questions, ask them, and we’ll try to include answers in future episodes. We just ask that you keep it civil. Wonder about a particular crime that doesn’t make the news? We’ll find a case as an example and present it.

Coming Tuesday: Episode 1 - Stealing to save her brother’s house.