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Judge grants request to exclude public from bail hearing

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    NMU         CONNECTICUT         Secret Courts         Aug 14, 2001    

Judge grants request to exclude public from bail hearing

  • The mayor of Waterbury, Conn., remains held without bond after his attorney convinced a federal judge to close the courtroom during a pre-trial session.

A federal district judge in Connecticut ruled twice against the fundamental practice of a public judicial process when he closed a pre-trial detention hearing and denied a request to unseal documents in a criminal case against Philip Giordano, the mayor of Waterbury.

Federal prosecutors opposed the motion by Giordano’s attorney to exclude the public and press from the Aug. 7 bail hearing and filed a seven-page memorandum in support of an open hearing. The judge said he granted the request to ensure the mayor receives a fair trial.

“Trial judges are entrusted with an affirmative constitutional duty to minimize the effects of prejudicial pretrial publicity,” Judge Alan Nevas wrote on Aug. 7.

Weighing heavily on Nevas’ decision was the anticipated disclosure of information the government obtained through court-authorized wiretaps. Prosecutors told the court they intended to rely on the content from the wiretap at the bail hearing. An affidavit also detailing the wiretap content was used to support the criminal complaint. The Waterbury Republican-American and the Hartford Courant unsuccessfully sought to have the court unseal the affidavit.

On July 26, Giordano was arrested and charged with using a federally regulated device, such as the telephone, to lure two young girls into a sexual relationship. At the closed pre-trial detention hearing, the judge denied bail. The 38-year-old mayor of Waterbury has been in jail since his arrest. A member of the Board of Aldermen has stepped in as acting mayor.

In his 11-page opinion, Nevas said after carefully inspecting the affidavit, “the nature of information that would be the subject of pervasive publicity in this case . . . has a capacity to inflame and prejudice the entire community.”

Apparently, the court decided there was no way to hold a bail hearing, which addresses the likelihood that a defendant will return to court, without revealing the potentially prejudicial contents of the wiretaps.

The court also discounted any of the traditional alternatives to closing a public courtroom. First, Nevas said he could not redact the document because the entire affidavit contained the intercepted statements. Second, Nevas said moving the case to a different location would not assure a fairer trial because the publicity was equally intense and pervasive in the other cities with federal courts — Waterbury, Hartford and New Haven. Finally, Nevas said providing Giordano with procedural remedies, such as additional challenges and extended questioning of jurors, would not offset the prejudice disclosure would create.

Delcie Thibault, spokeswoman at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Haven, said the court documents adequately stated their position against closing the hearing. Attorney Andrew Bowman, who represents the mayor, did not return a call for comment to the Reporters Committee.

First elected mayor in 1995, Giordano, a Republican, began his third term in 2000.

(U.S. v. Giordano) SM


© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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