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Court says judge should not have closed 'Jena Six' hearings

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A Louisiana appeals court ruled this week that the juvenile court proceedings of one of the teenagers involved in the high-profile "Jena…

A Louisiana appeals court ruled this week that the juvenile court proceedings of one of the teenagers involved in the high-profile "Jena Six" case was improperly closed to the public.

More than 10 media groups, from CNN and The New York Times to the local Alexandria Newspapers publishing company, fought District Judge J.P. Maufray’s closure of the courtroom during the case of Mychal Bell. He was one of six black teenagers accused of beating a white student at Jena High School; their case drew national attention and prompted a massive protest in the small Louisiana town last year.

Writing for the court, Judge John Saunders found that it was not up to Maufray to shut out the media, since Louisiana law requires juvenile proceedings in felony or violent cases to be open. Furthermore, Saunders wrote, and contrary to the lower court’s contention, the news groups did have standing to intervene.

The opinion did not address whether court records would be made available in the case. Bell has pleaded guilty to second-degree battery.

Mary Ellen Roy, attorney for the media outlets, told The Associated Press she saw the ruling as a clear signal that juvenile proceedings must stay open in the future.