The day after my blog post ran last week about media access to court records, I got a response from Warren County Judge John Hall that I had awaited for 6 weeks.
Not surprisingly, the judge wrote that the videos of police questioning double murder suspect Bryan Redden were not going to be opened to the media or public before trial.
(Background from last week's blog post is here.)
I have attached Judge Hall's letter, but in sum and substance the judge wrote that he was within his rights to withhold the evidence, the statements don't have to be filed in court by prosecutors and he can close the court when he deems necessary.
That's all well and good, if we were dealing with a spate of cases where appeals courts were overturning verdicts or throwing out convictions because a defendant was deprived their right to a fair trial.
In my 26 years covering the local court beat, we have never had a case around here where an appeals court, or local judge, has found that media coverage has hindered a defendant's right to a fair trial, or had a case moved without to another venue because of pre-trial publicity, without prosecutor consent.
This is just unnecessary gatekeeping, the motivation for which is unclear to me.
Some crucial (at least to me) facts that the judge neglected to mention in the Redden case are that, according to my recollection and that of other media in court, the Redden video was filed with the court and not just turned over to the defense, and the legal process that was done in Washington County to determine whether it should be sealed wasn't done in Warren County. His court attorney and the court clerk's office said in recent weeks that the file and its contents are not sealed.
So where is the video disc that was filed that day, which Hall directed sealed? Why would he direct something sealed, if it was not being filed?
That was not addressed in his letter. We are working with our newspartners at NewsChannel 13 and the New York News Publishers Association to figure out our options.
-- Don Lehman