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Judge denies media access to hearing in juvenile assault case

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Judge denies media access to hearing in juvenile assault case 03/08/99 OHIO--In mid-February, trial court Judge Steven Williams in Fairfield…

Judge denies media access to hearing in juvenile assault case

03/08/99

OHIO–In mid-February, trial court Judge Steven Williams in Fairfield issued an order excluding a reporter for The Columbus Dispatch from delinquency proceedings involving Christopher Ruh.

The Dispatch filed a lawsuit on February 19 in the Ohio Supreme Court in Columbus asking the state high court to issue a writ vacating the closure of and denial of press access to the delinquency proceedings involving Ruh.

Ruh, 16, is charged with assaulting William Stobart, a 55-year- old jogger, in October 1998. In January 1999, The Dispatch asked Williams to grant it access to all courtroom proceedings in the criminal case against Ruh. After no response by Williams, the paper made seven further requests for access. Williams never formally responded to any of them. On February 19, Williams barred the media from a plea and sentencing hearing, but allowed non-media members of the public to attend. According to the complaint filed by The Dispatch, approximately 12 members of the public remained in the courtroom despite the exclusion of The Dispatch.

The complaint by The Dispatch alleges that Williams failed to provide notice that a closure was being considered, failed to conduct a closure hearing as required by law, and failed to articulate specific findings that closure was essential to preserve identified higher values and was narrowly tailored to serve that interest. The lawsuit before the Ohio Supreme Court was pending as of early March. (Ohio ex rel. The Dispatch Printing Company v. Williams; Media Counsel: John Zeiger, Columbus)