Monday, May 23, 2011

Ky. High Court Rules Press Entitled Access to Criminal Contempt Hearings

The Courier-Journal DispenserImage via WikipediaIn its 16-page decision last week in Jason Riley & The Courier-Journal, Inc. v. The Hon. Susan Schultz & Com. of Kentucky (Case No. 2010-SC-0006-MR), the Kentucky Supreme Court held that state court contempt hearings are open to the news media and public.

As reported by the Associated Press, The Louisville Courier-Journal and its public safety beat reporter Jason Riley brought a court action based on Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Susan Schultz's holding of a contempt hearing involving possible juror misconduct in her chambers in May 2010. Judge Schultz met with three jurors in closed session as a prelude to denying a prosecution's motion for a mistrial.

Kentucky's High Court reversed the Commonwealth's Court of Appeals' denial of a writ of mandamus or prohibition requiring media access to a juror contempt hearing. "Because the public's interest in a criminal contempt proceeding is essentially the same as its interest in any criminal trial, criminal contempt proceedings must be open to the public, including the media," the Kentucky Supreme Court opinion stated.

Conceding the matter was moot for the case in question, the High Court wrote: "It is not sufficient to hold the hearing first, and then determine what it is. The media and the public have the right to rely on what the docket says in pursuing their right to access."
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