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Houston Chronicle loses bid to unseal Enron transcripts

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Houston Chronicle loses bid to unseal Enron transcripts

  • A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Houston has allowed sealed transcripts and closed hearings in the criminal cases against former Enron executives.

Oct. 8, 2003 — In a disappointing ruling for open-courtroom advocates, a federal appeals court in Houston (5th Cir.) last week declined to order a federal judge to unseal transcripts and stop holding closed hearings in the criminal cases against former Enron CFO Andrew Fastow and two other former executives.

The three-judge panel did not issue an opinion, but simply entered an order denying the Houston Chronicle‘s challenge to the closure decisions by trial judge Kenneth Hoyt. In a one-sentence docket entry accompanying the order, the court said it would consider another challenge if there were “changed circumstances” in the case.

Mary Flood, the Chronicle reporter who was barred from attending three pretrial hearings in July and August, said the court’s ruling was not entirely unexpected.

The newspaper had sought a writ of mandamus, an unusual form of injunctive relief against a lower court, because the newspaper was challenging Hoyt’s ongoing handling of the case, rather than a final judgment.

Flood said she was encouraged that “the Fifth Circuit took our request seriously, ruled quickly, and left the door open [for another appeal].”

The Fifth Circuit did not specify what “changed circumstances” would cause it to reconsider. But it said its decision was based on the “specific nature of the administrative proceedings at issue,” implying that it would consider intervening if Hoyt tries to close future hearings that address substantive, rather than administrative, matters.

Flood said the Chronicle would consider filing another challenge if Hoyt continues to close proceedings without explanation.

(United States v. Fastow, et. al.; Media Counsel: Bill Ogden, Ogden, Gibson, White, Houston) JM

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