|NMU||FLORIDA||Secret Courts||Oct 16, 2002|
Judge opens Noelle Bush’s drug court proceedings
- In a win for the news media, a judge opted to keep open Noelle Bush’s drug court hearing, ruling that drug courts are criminal proceedings and should be open to the public.
Noelle Bush’s drug court proceedings must be public, a Florida judge ruled Oct. 15.
Orange-Osceola County Circuit Judge Reginald Whitehead denied motions to close the drug court hearing for the daughter of Gov. Jeb Bush, ruling that drug courts are criminal proceedings and must allow public access.
Open access allows the public to see whether drug courts are working to “return individuals to a productive state,” Whitehead wrote.
This decision came after Bush’s attorney Peter Antonacci filed a motion to close the proceedings, arguing that the governor’s daughter has a right to expect privacy.
Antonacci also argued that open drug courts might impede a patient’s progress in drug-treatment. Drug courts are supposed to help patients complete treatment and should not allow the same access as criminal proceedings, he said.
Public defense attorney Robert Wesley joined the motion to close Bush’s proceedings and requested that the court grant his clients the same protections as the governor’s daughter. Wesley’s clients include approximately 140 people, about 95 percent of the cases in that court.
“I just wanted my clients to be treated like the rich people,” Wesley said.
The Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel opposed the request to close Bush’s drug court hearing and filed a motion against it.
“Taxpayers pay for the legal system, judicial system and drug-treatment programs,” Sentinel Editor Tim Franklin said. The public needs access to know that what it pays for in taxes effectively benefits society.
This decision was a big win for media, Franklin said. “An important legal principle was at stake.”
Had the court ruled otherwise, a new precedent might have been set, closing drug courts all across Florida, and most likely affecting drug courts in other states as well, Franklin said.
After being arrested in January for using a fake prescription to buy anti-anxiety medicine, Bush received treatment at the Center for Drug-Free Living in Orlando where staffers allegedly found crack cocaine in Bush’s shoe Sept. 9.
Bush’s drug court hearing is scheduled for Oct. 17. At this time, Whitehead will decide if Bush will remain in her drug-treatment program or return to the regular criminal justice system.
(Florida v. Noelle Bush) — LF
© 2002 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press