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Houston Chronicle seeks release of sealed Enron transcripts

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Houston Chronicle seeks release of sealed Enron transcripts

  • U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt said there was “nothing that needs to be reported” in pretrial hearings and that he didn’t want to embarrass the parties and the Court.

Sep. 5, 2003 — The Houston Chronicle asked a federal appeals court in Houston (5th Cir.) on Tuesday to unseal the transcripts of closed hearings in the criminal case against three former Enron executives, including former Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow.

Within 24 hours of the Chronicle‘s request, the appeals court ordered the prosecutors and defendants to submit written responses by Monday afternoon, Sept. 8.

“We’re very pleased that the Fifth Circuit responded so quickly,” said Chronicle reporter Mary Flood, who was barred from attending three pretrial hearings. “They appear to be taking it seriously.”

The Chronicle filed its motion after U.S. District Judge Kenneth Hoyt excluded the press and public from three pretrial hearings, one on July 28 and two on Aug. 26. Flood was present at all three hearings. She said she requested access to the Aug. 26 hearings but was denied. When Flood lingered in the hallway outside the room in which the hearings were being conducted, she said security officials told her to leave or she would be incarcerated.

The Chronicle contends that Hoyt failed to give sufficient reasons for closing the proceedings.

“His reasons were not substantive and not very specific,” said Bill Ogden, an attorney representing the Chronicle. “He really didn’t explain his reasons at all.”

According to court transcripts, Hoyt stated that “there has been no materialization of any matter, and therefore, there is nothing that needs to be reported.” He also said the hearings concerned matters that could “embarrass” the parties and the court.

In its brief to the court of appeals, the Chronicle sharply criticized Hoyt’s reasoning. “There is no ’embarrassment exception’ to the First Amendment,” the paper noted.

In addition to seeking release of the sealed transcripts, the Chronicle has asked the court of appeals to order Hoyt to stop holding closed hearings. Hoyt has reportedly said he might hold more closed proceedings in the future.

(Houston Chronicle Publishing Co.; Media counsel: Bill Ogden, Ogden, Gibson, White, Houston) JM

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