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Newspapers not allowed to appeal document denial during trail

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  1. Freedom of Information
Newspapers not allowed to appeal document denial during trail 05/04/98

Newspapers not allowed to appeal document denial during trail


PENNSYLVANIA–In late February, the majority of a Superior Court panel in Philadelphia held that three Scranton newspapers could not immediately appeal a court order denying them full access to documents related to an ongoing criminal trial. The court said that the newspapers had to wait until the proceedings concluded, citing the general rule that only “final” orders are appealable.

The court held that postponing access to the documents did not violate the public’s right under state law to observe the functioning of the criminal justice system because the public was not “forever barred from gaining access to the redacted information.” The court rejecting the newspapers’ argument that access delayed was access denied.

One judge dissented, arguing that “the press, which seeks to publish news, will be irreparably harmed if review of this order awaits disposition of the unrelated underlying criminal trial.”

In October 1996, Lackawanna County Court of Common Pleas Judge Frank Eagen in Scranton was presiding over the criminal trial of William Sartin. During jury selection, an attorney not directly involved with Sartin’s case made remarks to Eagen that prompted Eagen to write several letters of complaint to the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. In his letters, Eagen indicated that the remarks could prejudice Sartin’s right to a fair trial.

The following month, after conducting an in camera hearing, Eagen recused himself from Sartin’s case and sealed the transcript of the hearing. The Scranton Times, Sunday Times and Scranton Tribune petitioned the judge reassigned to Sartin’s case, Carmen Minora, for access to the hearing transcript and Eagen’s letters to the Disciplinary Board. Minora released redacted portions of the documents, and the newspapers appealed for full, unredacted access. (Pennsylvania v. Sartin; Media Counsel: Samuel Klein, Philadelphia)