An Arkansas judge this week refused to back off a court order sealing jail records in the case of a man charged with killing a Little Rock anchorwoman — even though state law says such records are public.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette filed a motion asking District Court Judge Lee Munson to drop his "vastly overbroad" order making murder suspect Curtis Lavelle Vance’s jail records exempt from the Freedom of Information Act. Munson, saying Vance’s fair trial rights in a case of heightened media interest left him no other choice, simply backed up the prior order by citing the Sixth and Eighth Amendments.
Attorney Jess Askew, representing the newspaper, said in an interview it was Vance’s public defender who first sought the order sealing the jail records, including a visitor’s log. A Democrat-Gazette reporter then asked for the records and was denied, prompting the paper to move to intervene in the case.
Of the judge’s most recent order, Askew said, "It’s kind of staggering to me."
Vance’s lawyers may be concerned that doctors or other expert witnesses would visit him in jail and wind up in the news. But, Askew said, "So what if they have Sigmund Freud go visit this person in jail? . . . So what if that gets reported? Does that affect (his) right to a fair trial?"
Askew said the newspaper is planning to pursue the matter, possibly to the state supreme court.
According to The Associated Press, a 1991 state supreme court ruling, declaring that jail records are not exempt from FOIA because they are not linked to investigative materials, would seem to favor the newspaper’s argument.