Media organizations want Zimmerman court file unsealed

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 12:34 PM

Rene Stutzman

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Media attorneys on Monday asked the Sanford, Fla., judge overseeing the George Zimmerman murder case to unseal the court file.

Attorneys for Zimmerman and the state last week agreed that they wanted paperwork in the file kept secret. That also includes all the evidence that the state will, in the next few days and weeks, provide Zimmerman's attorney.

Seminole County Judge Mark Herr agreed, without signing an official order.

But two sets of media attorneys, representing different publishers and broadcasters, on Monday filed motions, saying Zimmerman had not shown a need to seal the case.

They also pointed out that much of the evidence in the case has already been reported.

One was filed by Tribune Co., the owner of the Orlando Sentinel, and WFTV.

It calls the act of sealing all case records "drastic and extreme. ... There is no reason to believe that the release of material now will affect the fairness of the trial."

"This criminal case has already raised serious questions -- from all sides -- about the ability of government to do its job and protect its citizens. Florida's historically open and transparent judicial system should not compound such suspicions by operating in the dark in this case."

The other was filed on behalf of The New York Times, The Miami Herald, The Tampa Bay Times, The Florida Times-Union, CNN, NBC, several broadcasters and other publishing companies as well as The First Amendment Foundation, a nonprofit public access advocacy group in Tallahassee.

Both media groups are expected to ask for a hearing. It's not clear when that might happen, but under Florida law, attorneys who want case records sealed must present evidence -- not just argument -- that open records would be a serious threat to justice and that there are no other alternatives, except for a change of venue, to protect Zimmerman's rights.

There may be other developments in the case soon. Last week, defense attorney Mark O'Mara hinted that he may ask Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler to recuse herself.

Recksiedler's husband is the law partner of Mark NeJame, who currently works for CNN as an analyst on the Zimmerman case.

O'Mara is to appear on CNN Tuesday night. An advanced transcript, released by "Anderson Cooper 360," quotes him as saying he believes Zimmerman will get a fair trial.

"Florida has a good process in place to make sure we have an unaffected jury," O'Mara said. "The best example is Casey Anthony, even though they had to go a hundred miles west, they were able to get a jury who sat back, listened to all of the evidence and made a decision.

"We will get a fair trial. I have a residual concern that the emotions attached to this case, well outside the actual facts of what happened, may have a continued impact on our ability to try the case properly if those involved don't wait and let the process work."


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