OPEN COURTS -- KSBW TV (Salinas) President and General Manager Joseph Heston editorializes about a judge's decision to close the courtroom for a preliminary hearing in a murder case, especially in light of the current celebration of Sunshine week.
Now to be clear: this isn’t a simple matter of the judge prohibiting cameras from the court. As broadcasters, we are repeatedly mystified by the provincial mindset of judges who think cameras have no place in a courtroom. But that’s another editorial for another day. In this case, Judge John Salazar has said NOBODY is allowed to witness these hearings. And that should be of grave concern to anybody and everybody who cares about how our government operates.
The closure of preliminary hearings has become a lot more rare than the heyday of such practices in the late 70s and early 80s, mostly because of a U.S. Supreme Court decision stemming from the closure of such a hearing in Riverside. In Press-Enterprise v. Superior Court, then Chief Justice Burger wrote for the court:
478 U.S. 1, 13 (1986). Three facts are striking in the sole print news report about this closure. The first is that no reference is made to any findings by the Watsonville court, as required by the First Amendment. The second is that although the order banished no fewer than five news organizations from the courtroom, none appears to have summoned a lawyer—a response that would have been certain a generation ago. The third is that the closest newspaper even to report the banishment was in San Jose, 47 highway miles away. Do we see where the collapse of the daily press is leading?