Appeals court rejects move to keep courtroom open

From the Spokesman-Review

Betsy Z. Russell
Staff writer

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Tuesday rejected an appeal from The Spokesman-Review of a federal judge’s decision to close the courtroom for key testimony in Joseph Duncan’s federal sentencing trial.

A three-judge panel of the court wrote that it could not reverse U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge’s order unless the district court “clearly erred” in ordering the courtroom closure, and they ruled, “It did not.” The ruling did not elaborate.

Lodge had ordered the courtroom closed for any testimony by Shasta Groene, the 11-year-old surviving victim of Duncan’s crimes.

Gary Graham, managing editor of the newspaper, said, “We’re obviously very disappointed in the court’s ruling.” He added, “We believe that the public and the news media have a right to know and see the same things the jury will hear and observe in the courtroom. … It’s critical that reporters be allowed to observe important testimony in order to produce a detailed account of the proceedings.”

Lodge had held that the 1st Amendment interests of the public were outweighed by the “compelling interests in protecting the minor victim from further harm and embarrassment.”

James Cohen, a law professor at Fordham University, said he was surprised the appeals court applied the strict “clear error” standard of review to a 1st Amendment case. “It sounds as if the 9th Circuit is giving the 1st Amendment short shrift,” he said.

From the Spokesman-Review

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