August 2, 2008 in Idaho

News media seek an open courtroom

Brief also requests documents’ unsealing
Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer
 
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BOISE – Attorneys for The Spokesman-Review and an array of news organizations in Idaho and Eastern Washington filed arguments in federal court Friday in favor of keeping open court proceedings in the Joseph Duncan case.

U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge is considering closing the courtroom for the testimony of 11-year-old Shasta Groene and the showing of a videotape Duncan made of his abuse of 9-year-old 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 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,” he said.

Swinton noted that the “fundamental principle of openness” has been found to be particularly important in cases involving violent crimes, so the public knows 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.

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