Media oppose having case documents filed secretly |

Media oppose having case documents filed secretly

Jon Sarche

In a court filing, attorneys for media including The Associated Press said they oppose the prosecution’s bid to have evidence-related motions barred from public view. Prosecutors this month said details in such requests could influence the jury pool and threaten Bryant’s right to a fair trial.

A judge should seal court documents only if there is a proven, substantial risk that disclosure would threaten that right – and only if there is no other way, media attorney Steven Zansberg wrote.

Bryant, 25, faces four years to life in prison or 20 years to life on probation if convicted of felony sexual assault. He is accused of raping a 19-year-old worker at a Colorado resort where he stayed June 30.

Bryant has said the two had consensual sex. No trial date has been set.

Under the First Amendment, court documents are supposed to be open to the public unless there is proof they must be sealed. Such proof must be given for each document, Zansberg wrote.

He also said if state District Judge Terry Ruckriegle issued the order prosecutors are seeking, “”it could result in the parties erring on the side of caution by filing all future pleadings under seal.”

As an alternative, Zansberg said, the judge could have certain motions filed under seal until he determines whether they could be opened to public review. But the attorney said only motions that disclose information for the first time should be filed under a provisional seal.

“”What’s going on here is the traditional tug-of-war where the media, acting as the surrogate of the public, is saying “Wait a minute, you’ve got to justify why you’re doing this because of the presumption that court records are open to the public,”’ said Jane Kirtley, professor of media ethics and law at the University of Minnesota.

Zansberg’s proposed solution appears to balance the public’s right to know with Bryant’s fair-trial rights, said Kirtley, former executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

“”You start from a presumption of openness, and the law would require them to justify every single thing they want to seal,” she said.

Ruckriegle has scheduled hearings Dec. 19 and Jan. 23 to discuss requests by both sides, and he could make decisions then about the evidence.

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