5th Circuit: Public, press have right of access to sentencing

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Houston Chronicle reported yesterday about its win in a First Amendment fight over public and press access to courtroom proceedings. The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a federal judge shouldn’t have barred access to a Houston courtroom during the February 2010 sentencing of Oziel Cardenas-Guillen, leader of a notorious Mexican drug cartel, without first allowing the newspaper to challenge the judge’s order.

“We conclude that the press and public have a First Amendment right of access to sentencing hearings, and that the district court should have given the press and public notice and an opportunity to be heard before closing the sentencing proceeding in this case,” Judge James L. Dennis wrote for the three-judge panel.

Chronicle Editor Jeff Cohen told the newspaper: “The decision by the 5th Circuit is a victory for those who find open courts sacred. The trial judge should have known better. There is a dangerous drug war being waged on our border and it is essential that the public have a clear view of how it is being fought.”

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