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Lawyer loses bid to exclude press, drops contempt action

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Lawyer loses bid to exclude press, drops contempt action 02/24/97 FLORIDA--A Hillsborough Circuit Court judge in Tampa in early February…

Lawyer loses bid to exclude press, drops contempt action

02/24/97

FLORIDA–A Hillsborough Circuit Court judge in Tampa in early February denied a defense attorney’s request to exclude the press from a hearing to determine whether various records in a child abuse case should be made public. The attorney had also asked the court to hold a newspaper in contempt for publishing information from the juvenile records in the case, but withdrew the request at the February hearing.

Judge Perry Little held that the media had a right to attend the hearing because it was scheduled to resolve issues of access and contempt. Little held that any future proceedings to determine whether the defendants’ parental rights should be terminated would be closed.

Eric Shumpert, 20, and Tammy Lynn Kidder, 21, were charged in late January with aggravated child abuse, neglect and torture of their 2-year-old son, Eric, who had recently been returned to the couple from foster care.

At the February 6 hearing, attorney Andy Steingold, who is representing Shumpert, withdrew a motion to hold in contempt the Tribune Company, publisher of The Tampa Tribune, for publishing Shumpert’s juvenile records. The Tribune reporter who wrote the story obtained the documents from the court clerk’s office. The court denied Steingold’s motion to hold the Clerk in contempt for releasing Shumpert’s juvenile records to the newspaper because there was no indication that the Clerk “intended to interfere with the court’s duties.”

The Tribune and other media groups petitioned the court for access to numerous documents, including records from the state Department of Children and Families, a termination of parental rights petition that was filed by a guardian ad litem who was appointed by the court to represent the child, and Shumpert’s juvenile delinquency file.

The court granted the media access to all the documents. Judge Little ordered released redacted copies of the Department’s records, characterizing as “premature” claims by Shumpert and Kidder that disclosure would adversely impact on their fair trial rights. Judge Little also released the termination of parental rights petition, in part because the guardian ad litem did not oppose its release. The court also released Shumpert’s juvenile delinquency records, noting that The Tribune had already received access. (Florida v. Shumpert; Media Counsel: Beth Johnson, Tampa)