PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Two media organizations, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, argued Friday that the judge in the Michael Rosfeld case violated the Constitution when he held a private hearing.
From what we know about the closed hearing, Rosfeld’s attorney, Patrick Thomassey, was accused of contempt of court by the District Attorney last week.
In a highly unusual move, the media and the public were barred from the hearing.
The judge issued a strict gag order in Rosfeld’s trial, meaning lawyers can’t talk publicly about last June’s deadly shooting and some of the evidence has been sealed.
Even so, Fred Frank, an attorney for the Post-Gazette, put it bluntly: “You can’t close hearings to the media.”
Frank added there is a First Amendment right of access to the courts, the Pennsylvania Constitution states that all courts are open, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that the public has a right to attend criminal trials.
There’s nothing new about this principle.
“This actually goes back all the way to William Penn, who wrote into the first Pennsylvania Constitutions, before we had a federal system, that all criminal proceedings and indeed all trials are to be open,” Frank said.
Thomassey was outspoken in court Friday, saying, “I can’t figure out what we’re doing … I don’t know what to say or what I’m allowed to say … [The District Attorney] filed a six-page motion slandering me and I can’t defend myself.”
It turns out, Thomassey was found not guilty of contempt and they agreed the hearing should have been open to the public and the media.
“This is a case of very high profile. A very great public interest. The public is entitled under all these presumptions of access to know everything that’s going on in this proceeding,” Thomassey said.
The judge has agreed to release a transcript of the closed hearing, but not for 10 days.
Rosfeld’s trial is set for Feb. 26, but they still haven’t determined if the pre-trial publicity will make it necessary to pick a jury from outside of Allegheny County.