My two days with Tony

I saw the news about the death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia while sitting in a bar drinking a beer. An Urban Artifact Scythe. Quite tasty. My first thought was “holy shit” and my second was whether anyone had put Clarence Thomas on a suicide watch yet. You have to figure the man is going to insist on being buried in the same grave. I never had a personal encounter with Scalia other than living through the disastrous ramifications of Bush v Gore like the rest of the country. I did have a two day period, through, where his whims had a direct personal impact on my life, however trivial.

Justice Scalia came to Cincinnati on March 4-5, 2002 to speak to a Law School Alumni group and a general address to students. At the time I ran what was called the Streaming Media Project. We were physically based in the College-Conservatory of Music and relied on the resources of the Electronic Media Division to operate.  We were actually a unit of the Office of Information Technology. That’s who I worked for and that’s where the money came from. We did a lot of webcasts for the College of Law. Looking back on my time there — I left in 2005 — most of the memorable webcasts I remember producing came out of the Law School.

Photo from UC News.

Our main contact was a librarian in the Law Library by the name of Joe Hodnicki. I always loved it when he called. I’m not being sarcastic here. I really did. As I said, the vast majority of the stuff they asked us to do was pretty interesting. I always knew when Joe called that the deadlines were going to be pretty tight. It was (rarely) his fault. He was the designated middle-man over there and people didn’t usually include him until late in the game.

I wish I could say I remember the conversation we had this time, but the truth is I don’t remember much in great detail. I think he called the last week of February to say that there was a possibility we’d be asked to stream a talk by Scalia from the Corbett Auditorium in CCM the following week. I remember that the first time we talked about it he said doubted we’d actually get to do it.  Scalia was notorious for not liking his speeches broadcast. There was nothing nefarious about it, it was just that the guy didn’t make his arguments in soundbites and didn’t like them being presented that way.  I doubt I would have thrown up any red flags from my point of view. Corbett Auditorium could be reached from our offices without even going outside. We had a network drop in the back of the house we could use to get the stream out. It was an easy gig. That probably wouldn’t happen.

It might have been later the same day, or maybe the next, when Joe called back to ask if it was possible to record another speech. He’d be speaking off campus at The Phoenix banquet space downtown the night before the Corbett event. I don’t think we’d done a gig off campus at that point and I was more than a little suprised. Joe was still pretty doubtful the we’d be allowed to record either event, but he’d been asked to check feasibility.  We knew there was no way to get a network connection down there, but they just wanted the speech recorded for posterity.

This was 2002. On one hand we were less than 6 months from the events of 9/11 so everybody had security on their minds. On the other hand, it occurred to us that there was a good chance he and his handlers had absolutely no idea what “streaming media” was. We’d put together a mobile production rig that was relatively advanced for its day, but now reminds me mostly of that scene in Wall Street where Michael Douglas is talking on that massive cell phone on the beach. The three cameras were small and remotely-controlled, so we figured there was a decent chance it wouldn’t trip anyone’s “Hey! We don’t like video! Cut that out!” response.

So we hauled our gear down to the Phoenix on a Monday afternoon and set up in a balcony overlooking the main ballroom floor. We dropped the cables down the side and kept the cameras out of the way as much as we could. That was the day I found out that the U.S. Marshall’s Service handles security for Supreme Court Justices. I remember this extremely tall guy coming into our makeshift control room and looking around. It was pretty cursory, but I remember that his badge looks exactly like the badges in old westerns. It was kind of cool.

We spent the evening sure we’d get the plug pulled on us, but we didn’t. We tore down late that night and set up again first thing the next day back on campus. This time we were going out live and we really expected to get shut down. But we didn’t. Other than what Joe had mentioned about Scalia hating to be recorded, I’m not sure it was really ever an issue anywhere except in our own paranoia. Paranoia was big then.

I remember little of the speeches. I remember him really enjoying talking about how the US Constitution wasn’t a living document, but a dead one. Those speeches were recorded nearly 14 years ago and the links on the press release from then are dead. I found other links that I suspect are equally dead. We did everything in Windows Media format back then, and that’s as good as dead. I’m guessing Windows Media 7 at best, but maybe older. And now the man is dead, too.

I remember him being funny. I remember disagreeing with him vehemently. What I mostly remember is that we managed to pull it off.