Media argue for open court

From the Spokesman-Review

By Betsy Z. Russell, Staff writer

Related Document: Legal brief seeking open court [PDF]

BOISE – Attorneys for The Spokesman-Review and an array of news media organizations in Idaho and eastern Washington filed arguments in federal court today in favor of keeping court proceedings in the Joseph Duncan case open.

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge is considering closing the courtroom for the testimony of Duncan’s only surviving victim, 11-year-old Shasta Groene, and for the showing of a videotape Duncan made of his abuse of 9-year-old victim Dylan Groene, whom Duncan admits murdering.

“Open and public process is an integral part of the American judicial system,” attorney Duane Swinton argued in a 20-page legal brief. “In fact, the Supreme Court has reiterated on numerous occasions how important it is for the media to be able to effectively cover judicial proceedings.” Swinton noted that the “fundamental principle of openness” has been found to be particularly important in cases involving violent crimes, so the public knows that justice is being done.

The brief also argues for unsealing some of the dozens of court documents that have been sealed from public view in the case. Attorneys on both sides in the case earlier filed arguments agreeing to the unsealing of some of the documents.

“What unfortunately has occurred in the case at bar is that so many documents have been

filed under seal without any indication to the public even as to the general topic of the

documents, that understanding how this case has unfolded has been difficult to follow. The unfortunate result is the undercutting of the ability of the public to have confidence that justice is being accomplished and that standards of fairness are being observed,” Swinton wrote.

He concluded, “Significant decisions and proceedings are yet to occur before the Court, and, given the complexity and public significance of the issues presented in this case, including potential imposition of the death penalty, openness, essential to the ability of the public to understand the proceedings and the fairness of the same, must be provided. The record before the Court does not support sealing of records or closure of proceedings.”

The judge is expected to rule soon on the openness question. Jury selection in the case is scheduled to resume next Wednesday.

From the Spokesman-Review

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