MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Opinion

June 8, 2013

Public trial vital for fairness

Muskogee County prosecutors have asked the court to block public access to the courtroom while the victim of an alleged sexual assault testifies against Fort Gibson physician Hubert Watty.

Prosecutors say the request was made “for the limited purpose of preserving the victim’s physician-patient privilege and protecting” her “private medical and health information.”

The Muskogee Phoenix will contest the effort to close access to Watty’s preliminary hearing.

 This newspaper does not like to interject itself into a news story.

Phoenix Publisher Randy Mooney said that although he is sympathetic to the woman’s concerns, he believes it is important to take a stand against efforts to block public access to the courts.

If the case were simply about a woman’s desire to protect her health and medical information, the paper would not seek to intervene.

But courts operate on precedent. In many cases, one or both parties would like to keep the public out.

Open courts are so important that the right to a public trial is guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment.

One of newspaper’s chief responsibilities is to seek to ensure openness in government. The courts are a vitalpart of that.

Standards to permit the closing of a trial are very strict for good reason.

Much can happen in secret that is against our best interests as a society.

Testimony in open court is the best way to ensure a trial is fair to both the accuser and the accused. Even when it is uncomfortable.

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