U.S judge rejects Georgia arguments over closed courtrooms
12:32 pm, February 21st, 2013
A federal judge in Albany has affirmed the constitutional principle that Georgia courts should be open to the public in a suit
challenging courtroom closures in the Cordele Judicial Circuit.
In a 27-page order, U.S. District Judge Louis Sands refused to dismiss a civil rights case against the circuit’s three judges – John Pridgen, Bobby Chasteen, and T. Christopher Hughes – brought by the Southern Center for Human Rights on behalf of a number of people who said they were barred from attending court hearings in the Ben Hill and Crisp County Law Enforcement Center courtrooms.
The suit claimed that the judges and county sheriffs, who were also named as defendants, systemically barred the public from attending court unless they were related to the defendants who appeared and those defendants were entering guilty pleas.
The judge rejected as “unpersuasive” the arguments put forth by the state attorney general, who is defending the judges. State lawyers argued that the judges were not closing the courts when they restricted access for reasons of space or security. Sands also rejected an argument that the public had no constitutional right to attend arraignments.
“Prohibiting the majority of the public from these proceedings often bars them from observing the entire justice system,” Sands wrote. “To deprive the public [of] the right to attend proceedings during which that process occurs could undermine the public’s faith in the modern criminal justice system.”
Southern Center Senior Counsel Gerald Weber called Sands’ ruling “a “public welcome’ sign for Georgia courtrooms that have presented citizens with untold hoops and hurdles to public access.”
Lauren Kane, a spokeswoman for Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens, said the office declined to comment because the matter was still ongoing.
The Daily Report will have a full story on its website late this afternoon.