Around the Northwest
Justice in Secret? That Isn’t Justice By The Honorable Rich Melnick
“We adhere to the constitutional principle that it is the right of the people to access open courts where they may freely observe the administration of civil and criminal justice. Openness of courts is essential to courts’ ability to maintain public confidence in the fairness and honesty of the judicial branch of government as being the ultimate protector of liberty, property, and constitutional integrity.” — Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington v Ikenberry (1993)
12 | Willamette Lawyer
USTICE ADMINISTERED IN SECRET erodes the public’s trust in the third branch of government. Two amendments of the Washington State Constitution state that “Justice in all cases shall be administered openly” and an “[A]ccused shall have the right to…a public trial.” The intertwining of these seemingly clear constitutional mandates — the right of the public to view court proceedings and the right of the accused to have a public trial — has resulted in great confusion, increased litigation and, in an alarming recent trend, reversed convictions. As early as 1927, Washington State courts warned that the wholesale exclusion of the general public from a murder trial could result in reversible error. The current state of the law is that before closing all or part of a hearing, judges must apply a five-part test, which includes weighing the competing interests of the defendant against the rights of the public. Judges must articulate their reasons for doing so on the record.