Deschutes County Circuit Court Judge Michael Adler must balance a variety of what could be competing interests as he oversees the upcoming murder trial of Edwin Lara. Among them are Lara’s right to a fair trial and the press and public’s right to observe what’s going on.
Adler ruled Wednesday that while news outlets, including this one, must abide by certain restrictions on coverage, they, and the public, will be allowed in the courtroom. It was the right decision.
Lara, 31, a former security officer at Central Oregon Community College, is accused of murdering 23-year-old Kaylee Sawyer in Bend on July 23. His lawyers have successfully argued to keep virtually every motion associated with the case out of the public eye, and to have a gag order imposed on persons associated with the case.
They also moved earlier this month to have the press barred from the courtroom. Adler ruled on that motion Wednesday. Duane Bosworth, The Bulletin’s media attorney, argued that, defense claims to the contrary, no trial-court regulations had been broken.
Adler did set limits on media coverage, to be sure. Media outlets may not publish or otherwise air any pictures that include computer screens or notes. And although audio recordings were not banned, audio recording devices must be kept in the back row of the courtroom’s public seating. Furthermore, photos, videos and audio recordings must be limited to on-the-record court proceedings. The U.S. tradition of keeping criminal court proceedings open to the public goes back hundreds of years and is part of the constitution’s Sixth Amendment. That amendment seeks to keep criminal court proceedings fair and accurate, which enhances their legitimacy in the public’s eye.
It was the Sixth Amendment the U.S. Supreme Court cited in 1963 when it said criminals facing prison time must be provided a lawyer for free if they cannot afford to pay one (Gideon v. Wainright). The court has also said court proceedings may be closed to the press and public only for “overriding” reasons, such as national security, public safety or a victim’s serious privacy interests, according to the National Constitution Center.
Adler recognized that history in his ruling Wednesday, as he should have.