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After more than two years, public finally allowed access to court docket in Chicago police officer’s murder trial

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Update (May 2, 2018): The public docket sheet is now available here.   Two-and-a-half years after a Chicago police officer…

Update (May 2, 2018): The public docket sheet is now available here.

Two-and-a-half years after a Chicago police officer was indicted for murder, the public will finally have access to a complete court docket on Thursday that will shed light on what has happened in one of the city’s most high-profile criminal cases.

On Friday, Cook County Circuit Judge Vincent Gaughan ordered the court clerk to create a list of all documents and orders filed in the ongoing case against Jason Van Dyke, who is charged with murder in the 2014 shooting death of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald. The clerk must release the list, generally known as a “docket sheet,” to the public by Thursday, when the court will hold a hearing on the matter.

Judge Gaughan’s order comes after the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, along with seven news organizations, intervened in the case in early March to argue that the court should publicly release a docket sheet and all documents filed in the case. Despite a well-established First Amendment and common law right of public access to court documents, only a handful of the more than one hundred filings have been made available to the public. The court has not made any specific findings, as required by law, to justify keeping these documents under seal.

Judge Gaughan issued an order in February 2017 requiring all parties to the case to file documents in his courtroom instead of the clerk’s office, which traditionally accepts and manages court files. As a result, the clerk’s office has not maintained a public docket in the case — until Friday’s order — and documents filed with the court have not been made available to the public.

Based on his comments at a hearing last Wednesday, the Reporters Committee anticipates that Judge Gaughan will rule on the Reporters Committee and news organizations’ request to unseal court records in the case as early as tomorrow.

Attorney Brendan Healey of Mandell Menkes is representing the Reporters Committee and several of the other media organizations intervening in the case, including WGN Continental Broadcasting Co., WFLD Fox 32 Chicago, The Associated Press, and WLS Television. Jeffrey Colman, Gabriel Fuentes, and Patrick Cordova of Jenner & Block are representing Chicago Public Media. Natalie J. Spears of Dentons is representing the Chicago Tribune Company, and Damon Dunn of Funkhouser Vegosen Liebman & Dunn is representing Sun-Times Media.