DA Krasner: Closed Courts Not Following United States Constitution

Alex Lloyd Gross- Photo- Delaware Valley News.com File photo Larry Krasner

by Alex Lloyd Gross

Larry Krasner, Philadelphia’s controversial District Attorney has ruffed quite a few feathers since his swearing in. Most people who oppose what he is doing call  him every name in the book. One thing he is arguing for should get everyone on the same page and that is to allow the media access to court hearings.  It is unconstitutional to bar the media.  That includes representatives from the largest outlets to the smallest.  With COVID-19  courts are holding virtual hearings, done with video and audio feeds. That is the problem.

Judges are erroneously not allowing media reps access to court hearings.  That is what Krasner is complaining about, and may legal scholars believe he is right on target. It; puts the public faith in the legal system  in the toilet.  Some judges have given sporadic access. Kranser said  “Allowing the press to remotely observe one but not all courtrooms both proves that remote access for press to all courtrooms could be easily provided, and raises additional concern about inconsistent application of constitutional requirements,” District Attorney Krasner continued. “It’s not for the court to determine if, when, and which courtrooms the public and press are allowed to observe. It’s not for the courts to become gatekeepers for what the public wants to know about how their hearings are conducted. In order to ensure the integrity of these proceedings and their outcomes, the criminal legal system must uphold the First and Sixth Amendment rights of the press, the public, and interested court watchers who perform an essential accountability function.”

Whether you are in favor of inmates being released early amid COVID-19 concerns is irrelevant. The only thing that matters is transparency. Any constitutional expert can tell you not allowing the media access to an audio stream of a hearing, raises the specter of corruption.  A judge that restricts media access may be the most ethical legal representative ever to pass the bar. Someone can still call them corrupt and accuse them of the unthinkable when they make rulings in secret.

Anne Marie Coyle, is one such judge.that has barred all media requests to listen, and also denied every inmates request for relief under coronavirus  petitions.  In every case that came before her, she denied the petitioner and in four cases, raised bail even higher. These kinds of rulings are exactly why the public needs a representative to be present, to insure the even handed application of law. Other judges have approved as many as 60 percent of the petitions for release.  Coyle is not going to be hearing any more of those petitions, ”  Based on what has transpired over the last two days, it is not appropriate nor ethical for us to continue to present petitions before Judge Coyle,” said Bradford-Grey, Chief Public Defender.

The  cases involve non violent offenders, or people who have served the majority of their sentence without further incident.  Many of these people are At-Risk for COVID-19. At least one inmate has died in the Philadelphia Prison System  from COVID-19. The issue of allowing the media access is something both the Public Defender and District Attorney’s officers can agree on.