News Groups File Petition Seeking Access To Jena Six Teen's Juvenile Court Proceedings

Monday, October 22nd 2007, 5:56 pm
By: News On 6

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ A group of news organizations is seeking to open juvenile court proceedings for a black teenager charged with beating a white classmate in a case that sparked a huge civil rights demonstration in central Louisiana last month.

The Associated Press on Monday joined more than two dozen other organizations, including newspapers, television networks and network affiliates, in filing a court petition that challenges a judge's decision to seal Mychal Bell's case and close court proceedings to the news media and public.

The group seeks permission to attend upcoming hearings in the case, to review transcripts of previous hearings and other court records and to lift a gag order against participants in the case.

State District Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr.'s restrictions ``substantially limit the (media's) ability to report to the public the facts about this significant case and unconstitutionally stifle the flow of information to the public,'' the petition claims.

Lawyers for the news organizations filed the petition in the 28th Judicial District Court in Lasalle Parish, the court where Bell's case is being heard. Mauffray is expected to hear the petition, according to Mary Ellen Roy, a lawyer for the news organizations.

Mauffray's secretary, Bobbie Smith, said Monday afternoon that the judge hadn't received the petition.

Carol Powell Lexing, one of Bell's lawyers, said the case should be open to the public. District Attorney Reed Walters, she added, ``opened the door'' for that when he publicly discussed Bell's prior criminal history.

``This is a highly publicized case,'' she said. ``The nation has a right to know what's going on with it.''

Bell, 17, is charged with aggravated second-degree battery. He and five other black students were arrested in December 2006 and charged with attacking Justin Barker, a white classmate at Jena High School, and knocking him unconscious.

The case fueled allegations that Walters was treating blacks more harshly than whites, because his office didn't file charges against three white teens accused of hanging nooses in a tree on the high school's campus shortly before the attack on Barker.

A woman who answered the phone at Walters' office Monday afternoon said the prosecutor wasn't available for comment.

Bell was originally charged with attempted murder, but that charge was reduced before he was convicted in June of aggravated second-degree battery. In September, however, a state appeals court vacated the conviction and ruled that he shouldn't have been tried as an adult.

Bell is serving an 18-month jail sentence after Mauffray this month revoked Bell's probation for a criminal case that preceded the attack on Barker.