The night before, The Plainsman had received an email from a court administrator laying out the guidelines for media within the courtroom for the hearing. The guidelines were typical: no flash photography, etc.
However, Wednesday morning, Lee County District Judge Steven Speakman issued a sweeping guideline of his own.
Attorney Davis Whittelsey, legal counsel for Dakota Mosley, had filed a motion seeking that court proceedings be closed to the media because Mosley and his fellow accused could be deemed “youthful offenders,” in which case media would not be allowed into the courtroom.
Speakman granted the motion and ordered media be removed from the courtroom.
Within the hour, The Plainsman, in conjunction with its legal counsel Dennis Bailey, had chosen to move forward with an injunction to allow media back into the courtroom until the accused are actually deemed “youthful offenders” by a grand jury. After conversations with The Plainsman regarding the matter, The Opelika-Auburn News decided to join the injunction as well.
The Plainsman does not make such a move lightly. The decision to bring a legal challenge is costly both in time and money.
However, we believe that Judge Speakman’s actions are in violation of the Alabama law which requires government meetings and hearings, with certain stipulations, to be open to the public and the media.
While we believe Judge Speakman’s action to be in violation of state law, the decision also goes against the sacred right to a free press guaranteed in the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution.
Should the accused actually be deemed “youthful offenders” by a grand jury, Judge Speakman would be well within his legal rights, and in fact obligated, to close the trial to the public and media.
However, until that time, they must be treated as adults, and the media should have the right to view all proceedings up until that point.
It is for these reasons why The Auburn Plainsman chose to bring legal action against Judge Speakman.
Perhaps it’s a freshman error by the newly-elected Judge Speakman.
Sensitivity to the youth of defendants must be maintained in court, and it is for this reason why “youthful offender” treatment exists.
However, Judge Speakman must still follow the legal process in matters of youthful offenders, and in this instance, he has failed to do so.
The Auburn community has a right to know the details of Wednesday morning’s proceedings, and any proceedings in the future.
Judge Speakman’s actions have violated that right.