Friday, November 5, 2010

Media Orgs. Seek Records Access in Chandra Levy Murder Trial

Chandra LevyImage via Wikipedia
In U.S. v. Guandique (Criminal Case No. CF1009230), four media groups this week in Washington, D.C. Superior Court filed a Motion for Contemporary Access to Courtroom Exhibits and Completed Juror Questionnaires in the Chandra Levy murder trial.

Counsel for the Associated Press, The Washington Post, Gannett Co., Inc. and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press also filed the prerequisite Motion for Leave to Intervene that would enable a nonparty to seek access to case records. The move was prompted by court officials who indicated such records would not be made public during the prosecution of the defendant charged with killing California native Levy, a then-24-year-old intern for the Federal Bureau of Prisons, whose disappearance in May 2001, drew nationwide attention because of a rumored affair with Gary Condit, a former Democratic U.S. Representative from California's 18th Congressional District where Levy's family resided.

The hint of a scandal involving a purported straitlaced Congressman enabled the missing intern's story to share page one coverage with a handful of shark attacks on humans in newspapers during the summer of 2001, a situation that abruptly changed following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Tower and Pentagon.

Numerous Supreme Court decisions, including Richmond Newspapers v. Virginia, 448 U.S. 555 (1980), acknowledge a First Amendment right to public access to criminal proceedings and related documents. "TUOL" believes the media organizations involved are taking the proper action, but perhaps for the wrong reason.  A cornerstone of our legal system is the important concept of "justice in the open," where the public may view it. On the other hand, the tragic disappearance of Levy feeds the circulation-driven base instincts of the news media to over-cover a lurid, sensational case with no national impact or precedential legal value because of the possible sexual undertones.
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