Court hears dispute over open courtroom for juvenile case

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A media attorney argued Tuesday before the state Supreme Court that court hearings for a 12-year-old girl accused of murder should be open to the public, just as they would if an adult were on trial.

St. Louis Circuit Judge John Garvey Jr. in March barred the public and media from all proceedings in the case. An appeals court panel then issued a mixed decision, allowing the public to attend the "adjudicatory hearing where a child is accused" of serious crimes, but nothing else.

That was appealed to the Supreme Court, where judges and attorneys expressed confusion about what the appeals court ruling actually meant.

Under contention is a law excluding the public from juvenile cases except under certain circumstances, including when juveniles are accused of what would be considered a Class A or B felony if committed by an adult.

Attorney Joseph Martineau, representing the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said the appeals ruling seemed to allow access only to the juvenile trial, not the certification hearing that determines whether a person belongs in adult or juvenile court, and not the juvenile sentencing hearing. He contended that creates an illogical result.

The newspaper, joined by St. Louis television station KSDK, argued that the juvenile certification hearing, trial and sentencing all should be open -- as should any other hearings not typically closed in adult cases.

But attorney Tony Sestric, representing the judge, argued that the public and media should be allowed only into the certification hearing.

Under contention is a state law excluding the public from juvenile cases except under certain circumstances, including when juveniles are accused of what would be considered a Class A or B felony if committed by an adult.

The case at issue involves a girl who allegedly killed her 9-year-old sister -- a crime that would qualify as one of those serious felonies in adult court.

While the media attorney argued that the Legislature intended to generally open all such hearings, the judge's attorney argued that the singular use of the word "hearing" in another part of the law should be interpreted to limit the public's access.

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