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Washington paper asks high court to unseal murder trial expenses

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  1. Court Access
Attorneys for a Washington newspaper argued before the state Supreme Court on Tuesday that a county improperly withheld expenses incurred…

Attorneys for a Washington newspaper argued before the state Supreme Court on Tuesday that a county improperly withheld expenses incurred defending a double-homicide case from a public-records request because the records were sealed by a judge,The Yakima Herald-Times reported.

The Herald-Times contended that it is in the public’s interest to review how more than $2 million in public funds was spent representing the two murder defendants and asked the court to “refine the limits of court secrecy.”

Court-appointed attorneys represented Jose Luis Sanchez Jr. and Mario Gil Mendez, who were both found guilty in 2008 in the shooting deaths of a 21-year-old man and his young daughter during a drug deal. Sanchez is appealing his sentence of life without parole; Mendez pleaded guilty and was given 30 years in prison.

Attorneys for both defendants have argued that making such records public could infringe on defendants’ constitutional right to a fair trial in the future. During oral arguments, the attorney representing Sanchez pointed out that defendants who can afford to pay for their own defense do not have to worry about "the public looking over his shoulder."

The justices’ questions focused on the procedural issues surrounding the sealing of the receipts because the order itself was sealed. “How can the county claim to be complying with an order that no one … has seen?” Justice James Johnson asked in court.

A decision is not expected for several months and could take more than a year.