A federal judge in California conducted an entire trial this week behind closed doors, the Los Angeles Times reports.
The civil suit stems from the prison killing of a Jewish Defense League activist by a white supremacist. U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson “banished media and spectators from the courtroom Tuesday and Wednesday, from the swearing in of the first witness through closing arguments,” The Times reports. Though the order closing the trial was filed under seal, a court employee told the paper that the trial was closed to protect “testimony that concerned confidential ways prison officials identify gang members, especially the Aryan Brotherhood, which is a very dangerous gang.”
The Supreme Court has ruled that no judge may close proceedings in a criminal case without making specific, on-the-record findings that “closure is essential to preserve higher values” than the public’s right of access and is “narrowly tailored to serve that interest.” Thus, the court must find that there is a compelling need for secrecy in order to close a courtroom, and also that there is no other way of dealing with the problem. While the U.S. Supreme Court has only addressed the right of access to criminal cases, the California Supreme Court has noted that lower courts universally have extended the constitutional right of access to civil as well as to criminal trials.