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Judge berates newspaper before ruling on sealed affidavits

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  1. Court Access

    NMU         MASSACHUSETTS         Secret Courts         Feb 21, 2001    

Judge berates newspaper before ruling on sealed affidavits

  • Prosecutors argue releasing the contents may prejudice their investigation of an office shooting where seven people died.

A state court judge resumed a hearing on Feb. 20 to unseal the affidavits from the searches of the home, car and office of a man indicted in an office shooting last December in Wakefield. The first round of the hearing ended with Judge Bonnie MacLeod scolding the petitioner Boston Herald, and the local media generally, over their coverage of the attack that left seven people dead at the Edgewater Technology office on Dec. 26.

The Herald and The Boston Globe have asked the court to release the finding from the police searches, however, the prosecutor argued unsealing the documents would interfere with a police investigation.

In criminal investigations, prosecutors will often oppose the release of search warrant returns for multiple reasons, said Anson Kaye, spokesman for the Middlesex County district attorney’s office, which filed its response opposing the newspapers’ request with the Malden judge. MacLeod then sealed those filings as well.

Kaye said search warrant returns, in general, can often be misleading because the investigation is at a preliminary stage. Publicizing what police found, he said, may misconstrue the focus of an investigation, influence potential jurors or adversely affect a defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial. Kaye said prosecutors primarily argue to impound these documents to ensure police can successfully complete an investigation.

Herald attorney Jeffrey Hermes said the judge remarked that the prosecutors may have shown good cause to impound some of the items, but not all.

Both sides said MacLeod expected to rule on the Herald‘s request on Feb. 21, but she did not. Michael McDermott will be arraigned on murder charges on Feb. 22.

At the hearing on Feb. 16, MacLeod challenged the media’s treatment of the Wakefield shooting.

“The public is not calling up the press, screaming ‘Why aren’t you satisfying my voracious appetite for Michael McDermott,” she said, according to a Herald story. “Maybe the public doesn’t want to know,” the Malden District Court judge continued. “The public has lives and they’re going to read whatever is in the papers anyway, just because it’s there.”

(Commonwealth v. McDermott; Media counsel, Jeffrey Hermes, Brown, Rudnick, Freed & Gesmer, Boston) SM

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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