Latest News, WVPA Sharing

Editorial: Openness in federal court

From The Charleston Gazette-Mail’s Gazette Editorial Page, Oct. 9, 2015:

The trial of former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship got off to a rocky start, at least from the standpoint of openness and public access.

Early on, U.S. District Judge Irene Berger issued a broad gag order that prohibited just about anyone from speaking, and then she kept most of the court filings secret.

Five media organizations, including the Gazette-Mail, challenged the order, and a three-judge appeals panel in Richmond agreed. The gag order was lifted and documents were unsealed.

This week, Berger conducted almost the entire jury selection out of public view. Now that testimony is under way, the public is in the courtroom, as it should be, able to view and hear the proceedings.

Judges have a great deal of leeway in what they can do in a courtroom. While it might be in the best interests of a fair trial to keep the rest of a jury pool from hearing specific questions while potential jurors are being evaluated, there is no need to exclude the rest of the public, including the press, which attends on the behalf of the public. At least not in this case.

Judge Berger’s early secrecy in this trial is troubling. She made pre-trial rulings on what evidence would be allowed during a closed-door hearing on Tuesday night, so it was unclear on Wednesday, what, if any, limits Berger put on the testimony of Tracy Stumbo. Stumbo is a retired Kentucky state mine safety investigator hired by prosecutors to explain coal mining equipment and processes.

We are hoping for more openness going forward.

– See more at:

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

And get our latest content in your inbox

Invalid email address