News

October 28, 2009

Bringing Legal Insights to TV

Christopher Naughton ’77 is creator and host of American Law Journal

By Megan Zaroda ’07

Debris-ridden streets. Bewildered mourners. They were scenes fit for a network news anchor to tackle. But a local talk show host had been asked to stay on live that evening.

“What are lawyers going to talk about on the night of September 11?” Christopher Naughton ’77 asked himself. As creator and host of American Law Journal, a TV show bringing constitutional issues into viewers’ homes, he was unsure how to address what would unfold in light of the towers’ collapse. Yet by his go-live time at 8 p.m., Americans had seen the footage — and they wanted to talk about it.

“We talked about how [Sept. 11] might impact our civil liberties down the line. Some of the viewers’ questions were quite pressing,” he recalls.

Five years later to the date, Naughton assembled a cast of politicians and judges on set at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia to debate those issues once foreshadowed — wire tapping, balance of powers among the federal branches, and how powerful a president should be in wartime. That and his Sept. 11 show are Naughton’s most gratifying moments in a program entering its 20th year.

After law school, a master’s in broadcast journalism, and serving as a prosecutor in New Jersey, Naughton had realized that as much as he enjoyed courtroom work, the real thrill came from talking about the law.

He drew upon his experience in radio, originally garnered from his days at Lafayette’s WJRH (where he annually reunites for a broadcast with two college friends)  and as host of New World Radio. The latter program discussed and interpreted current events through a spiritual/holistic lens, borrowing various perspectives from fundamentalism to atheism to deism.

Coupling his background in law and radio, Naughton proceeded to develop the concept for his talk show and founded the company American Law Journal TV to make his vision a reality.

“I feel strongly that TV should be fun and the law can be dry sometimes, so you have to make [law] as interesting as possible and share what our sacred rights are,” he says. And that is what Naughton set out to do with the weekly law program, which has been picked up by stations in as many as 10 states.

Naughton identified a gap in what the public knew not only about the legal aspects of consumer issues — such as bankruptcy, social security, and overdrugging — but also about basic constitutional rights.

“The law can be convoluted. Why say it in 10 words when you can say it in 60?” he jokes. “We are asking our lawyers to reach out to the public and make the law a little more user-friendly and not so arcane.”

But American Law Journal is not solely about making the law accessible. The public needs to step up to the plate as well, Naughton believes.

“[We need] to take some time to plug in our lives to constitutionality and government,” he says. “Unplug from Facebook and your iPod for a few minutes and see what your rights are. Because by God, we could lose them.”

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