Arizona Appeals Court rules against Jodi her request for court secrecy
By Michael Kiefer | The Republic
The Arizona Court of Appeals on Wednesday denied a motion by convicted killer Jodi Arias to file her opening appeals brief under seal.
Arias’ attorneys argued that keeping the brief secret was “in the interest of protecting the safety of certain parties,” and that “the absurd level of interest in this case” had caused problems since her first trial in 2013.
In its ruling Wednesday, a three-judge panel wrote that, “The court concludes that the current request is legally insufficient to overcome the strong presumption in favor of public access.”
Silence is not golden – The request for secrecy in the Jodi Arias appeal
By Evan Bolick | Rose Law Group litigator
(Editor’s note: Mr. Bolick submitted this piece a day prior to the court’s ruling and obviously was on the right side of the court’s finding.)
Several years ago, I commended the judge presiding over the Jodi Arias trial for the remarkable level of transparency she maintained in such a high-profile case. In the face of intense media interest and public scrutiny, Judge Stephens admirably made the trial widely available to the public while not allowing the proceedings themselves to devolve into a sideshow. In allowing the trial to proceed in an open fashion, we were assured that the trial was fair and impartial, and that all parties had their arguments fully heard, vetted, and reported. In other words, everyone was assured that justice was served.
In Arias’ second sentencing trial, however, the court more frequently closed the courtroom to the public. Most egregiously, the courtroom was closed to allow a timid witness to testify, only to later reveal that that witness was…. Jodi Arias herself. Transcripts of her testimony were not released for months. It is remarkable that Arias, already convicted, was able to shield her own testimony from the public on such vague grounds. Likely emboldened by the trial court’s deference to her desire for non-public proceedings, Arias’ defense team now sought to keep her appellate proceedings secret. Granting this request would have been a mistake.
Both the federal and Arizona constitutions guarantee the accused a right to a public trial. But this right is also regarded as a right benefitting the public (to ensure the proper functioning of the judicial process) and a right that interacts with the First Amendment by ensuring that the press can freely report on these proceedings. Although records are occasionally sealed and courtrooms emptied, these events are rare and typically allowed only in extraordinary situations. Notably, nowhere does the law provide that the accused (or the government) have the right to cloak criminal proceedings in secrecy.
If Arias’ conviction had been overturned (or sentence reduced) on appeal, the victim’s family and friends, the press, and the public deserve access to the proceedings to gain insight as to what arguments the court relied on to reach its opinion. Undoubtedly, any reversal would be accompanied by a written decision, but knowing what was presented to the Court is equally as important as the result.
Neither Arias, nor any other defendant, should invert the right to a public trial into a right to demand secret proceedings. If sanctioned, the precedent of allowing a closed appeal premised on the defendant’s preference for secrecy would have broad ramifications. After all, what company in a defective products case would allow its arguments that the victim bears responsibility for their injuries to be presented to the public? What individual accused of the crime of sexual assault would want the public to be privy to their likely negative portrayal of the accuser in court? Simply put, the right to a public trial benefits not only the defendant, but society as a whole. Open trials are the ultimate safeguard against wrongdoing and injustice. And any abridgement of public access without good cause lessens the faith that the people have in the judicial system. We are now in an age fraught with mistrust and divisiveness, so ensuring accountability in our justice system is as important now as it has ever been. Our Court of Appeals recognized the same and dened Arias’ request to keep her appellate proceedings out of the limelight.