May 25, 2012 in City

Mediation ordered in execution policy suit

Reporters seek to view entire process
Todd Dvorak Associated Press

BOISE – A federal judge has ordered mediation talks between Idaho prison officials and more than a dozen news organizations that are challenging a policy that limits public access to lethal injection executions.

U.S. District Judge Edward J. Lodge handed down the order Thursday, two days after the Associated Press and 16 other news organizations, including The Spokesman-Review, filed a lawsuit seeking to force the Idaho Department of Correction to let witnesses view the execution process from start to finish.

The lawsuit is not intended to obstruct the state’s June 12 scheduled execution of convicted murderer Richard Leavitt. Instead, it focuses on a narrow section of the agency’s execution protocol.

Like most states with lethal injection, Idaho’s policy bars witnesses from watching as a condemned inmate is brought into the execution chamber, strapped to the table and has IVs inserted into his or her arms. The news organizations say reporters must be able to view executions from start to finish so they can accurately report the events – and any complications that may emerge – to the public.

Lodge’s order requires the parties to quickly begin nonbinding mediation on or before June 1 under the supervision of Magistrate Judge Candy Dale.

“Any opportunity to mediate a case is a positive development for both parties,” said Chuck Brown, the Lewiston attorney representing the news groups. “It avoids some of the uncertainty of how a third party, in this case a judge, might rule in the future.”

An IDOC spokesman said agency officials are still waiting to be served with the initial complaint filed Tuesday.

“When we are, we will take appropriate action,” spokesman Jeff Ray said.

The agency has defended its policy on grounds that keeping the first few steps private is essential to protecting the anonymity of the execution team. The agency also denied multiple requests by the news organizations to modify its protocol before the media turned to the federal courts.

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