Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Enid newspaper gets hearing to unseal records of dismissed charge against attorney

A sealed felony perjury charge against Enid attorney Eric Edwards was dismissed Monday.
But the Enid News & Eagle isn't giving up its fight to unseal the records closed by District Judge Ray Dean Linder in June.
News & Eagle Publisher Jeff Funk said the manner in which the case was sealed gives the impression of partiality and undue secrecy.
"The decision to dismiss the charge against Edwards does not address the News & Eagle's concern," Funk said. "Our dispute is with how this entire criminal case was made secret. It was sealed without advance notice, without proper procedure.
"How can the public have faith in a justice system that keeps secrets, that hides certain cases in dark corners, especially a case involving another local attorney?
"It looks like preferential treatment for Edwards, an attorney, to have a criminal charge against him kept confidential even though charges against all other adults are handled in open court," Funk said. "Our objection is to the secrecy of this case, and we want the court to declare this secrecy, this special treatment, unlawful and wrong."
A hearing on the newspaper's motion to unseal the case has been scheduled before Grady County District Judge Richard Van Dyck on July 30 in the Grady County Courthouse in Chickasha.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court had reassigned the case from Linder to Van Dyck on June 28.
Linder blocked public access to the records the same day the charge was filed against Edwards in May. Linder gave no reason other than he was the judge in the case and "because in my professional opinion it deserved to be sealed."
Linder also told the newspaper at the time that the case would "remain sealed until I say it shouldn't be sealed."
Major County District Attorney Hollis Thorp later recused his office from the case.
Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater was appointed to replace him. After reviewing the case, Prater filed a motion to dismiss the charge, saying it was in the best interest of justice.
Van Dyck agreed on Monday.
The newspaper's attempt to unseal the case took a strange twist recently when it received a response from Edwards’ attorney, Stephen Jones, with more than 40 lines blacked out.
In a court filing Friday, the newspaper's attorney, Michael Minnis, noted the difficulty of replying to a redacted response.
"If the defendant was truly seeking to avoid notoriety about what he claims is a bogus criminal charge, he should have made his arguments in open court and could have avoided the massive publicity he had to know would be caused by trying to make the case disappear shortly after it was filed,” Minnis wrote.

Joey Senat, Ph.D.
Associate Professor
OSU School of Media & Strategic Communications

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the commentators and do not necessarily represent the position of FOI Oklahoma Inc., its staff, or its board of directors. Differing interpretations of open government law and policy are welcome.

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