Archive for Friday, July 21, 2000

Court dismisses access suit

July 21, 2000


— The Kansas Supreme Court has dismissed a request filed by three newspapers and the Kansas Press Assn. over access to court records.

But attorney Mike Merriam, who represented The Hutchinson News, The Salina Journal, The Wichita Eagle and the state press association, said Wednesday that the issue won't go away.

The newspapers' complaint arose in the case of Christopher Jones, who was sentenced July 5 to life in prison after pleading guilty to three first-degree murder counts in the deaths of his children. Jones received an additional 43-month sentence on an aggravated battery charge for an attack on his wife.

After Jones was charged with the killings last year, McPherson County District Court Judge Carl B. Anderson announced he would review all motions before placing them in the public court file. Anderson also ordered attorneys not to release any motions directly to reporters.

The judge later overruled a challenge by the newspapers and the press association, which said Anderson's decision hindered their efforts to inform the public.

At the time, Anderson said he did not want to hide facts from the public. He said he was trying to balance the public's First Amendment right to know with the defendant's Sixth Amendment right to a fair trial.

The newspapers and the press association then turned to the Supreme Court, which last week issued a brief decision saying the case was moot because Jones pleaded guilty.

On Wednesday, Merriam attacked the decision. He said it means judges will continue to keep public records secret.

"Oh, it's going to happen again. Absolutely, absolutely," he said.

"Moreover, the Supreme Court can virtually guarantee that these cases become moot in any given instance by just waiting. They know the guy is going to go to trial; they know the case is going to be over in six or eight months," Merriam said. "That's what they did in this case -- they just sat on it until it was done."

Jim Bloom, publisher and editor of The Hutchinson News, agreed with Merriam that the issue will come up again.

"This is the third time in four years we've had district court judges make these kinds of rulings in communities we cover," he said. "It's just disappointing. And it is bound to happen again."

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