JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- According to the U.S. Supreme Court, criminal proceedings -- including jury selection -- "must be open to the public."
But that argument, made today by lawyers for First Coast News and The Florida Times-Union, clearly frustrated Judge Russell Healey, who noted it was "not even 11th hour" but just minutes away from the start of the Michael Dunn trial. "I hear what you're saying," he said, but added that he thought the question of media exclusion from the courtroom during jury selection "had been settled."
Attorney George Gabel argued that a representative presence of media was essential to fairly report the case and give the public confidence in the criminal justice process. His argument was based on Supreme Court case law, but at apparent odds with concessions made by the Northeast Florida Media Committee.
That group has been working with court administrators to wire the courthouse for audio and video broadcast, and had agreed that the media would listen to proceedings from an adjacent courtroom.
A motion last week, filed by lawyers for the state and the defense, may have complicated things, asking that the audio feed of the voir dire process not be used or broadcast by local media. That would be a departure from even other high-profile cases, including the George Zimmerman trial. Although juror identities were kept secret, media was allowed to watch jury selection and use juror interview audio.
Gabel noted that it was important to be able to see juror -- and even judge's expressions -- in order to properly cover the process. State Attorney Angela Corey disputed that, saying that she did not think it "news [if someone] may make a face or roll their eyes." And making room for media without making room for the victim's families would not be appropriate. Gable noted he didn't disagree, and preferred the courtroom be open to all.
The judge indicated he would make a decision before the start of trial today.