Around New England

Judge Closes Arraignment To Public, Fails To Have Proceeding Recorded

July 29, 2019

A Massachusetts district court judge barred reporters from the arraignment of a murder suspect in a hospital room, did not make himself available for objections to his ruling, and failed to have the arraignment tape recorded or transcribed despite a requirement such court proceedings be public.

A spokesman for the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court told the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune that “the hospital arraignment was not recorded in error,” quoting the court clerk’s office.

The arraignment was for Giovanni Lebron, 24, of Lawrence, who has been charged with first-degree murder in the death of Nicole Connor, 24. He was arraigned in his room at Lawrence General Hospital on Thursday, July 25, according to the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune (as reported by the Salem News).

The court spokesman told the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune that Judge Mark Sullivan “made the decision to exclude the media from the hospital arraignment after he spoke to two treating doctors, viewed the hospital room where the defendant was held and reviewed the court rule regarding media access to court proceedings.”

The court spokesman, according to the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, also said the judge also cited the “‘decorum’ of the proceedings, the size of the hospital room and medical privacy laws.”

Mark Sullivan was appointed a judge by then-Governor Mitt Romney. He was confirmed by the Governor’s Council in February 2005, according to State House News Service.

The state’s Rules of Criminal Procedure make it clear that hospital arraignments are supposed to be open to the public.

One rule states:

“Arraignments may take place outside of a courtroom, in settings such as correctional facilities … or hospitals … so long as the public’s right of access to the proceedings is as free as in a courthouse, subject to the same considerations that might lead a judge to close a courtroom to the public.”

Closing a court proceeding to the public is uncommon.

In 1984, the U.S. Supreme Court said concerning a request by prosecutors to close a suppression-of-evidence hearing to the public:  “Under the Sixth Amendment, any closure of a suppression hearing over the objections of the accused must meet the following tests: the party seeking to close the hearing must advance an overriding interest that is likely to be prejudiced; the closure must be no broader than necessary to protect that interest; the trial court must consider reasonable alternatives to closing the hearing; and it must make findings adequate to support the closure.” (The case is Waller v. Georgia.)

In 1995, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court said:  “The right of public access applies equally to traditional and nontraditional settings. … Any curtailment of public access to judicial proceedings, whether civil or criminal, is a very serious matter. The judge must make every effort to arrive at a reasonable alternative to closure.” (The case is Boston Herald Inc. vs. Superior Court Department of the Trial Court.)

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