New judge will decide if racially-charged case should be open to public
source (image courtesy of Google Images; editing by Ivent)
NEW ORLEANS - A judge has disqualified himself from hearing a request from news media to open juvenile court proceedings for a black teenager charged with beating a white classmate in Jena, a case that has drawn thousands of protesters.
State District Judge J.P. Mauffray Jr.’s recusal paves the way for another judge to decide whether the case against 17-year-old Mychal Bell should be open to the public.
Another judge was not immediately appointed to hear the petition filed by The Associated Press and more than two dozen newspapers, television networks and network affiliates.
The news organizations are seeking permission to attend new hearings in Bell’s case, to review transcripts of previous hearings and other court records, and to lift a gag order against participants in the case.
Bell, 17, originally was charged with attempted murder for his alleged role in a December 2006 attack on Justin Barker at Jena High School. That charge was reduced before a jury convicted him in June of aggravated second-degree battery. Mauffray presided over the trial.
The charges against Bell and five others — the so-called “Jena Six” — sparked a huge civil-rights demonstration in Jena last month. Critics accused District Attorney Reed Walters of treating blacks more harshly than whites, because his office didn’t file charges against three white teens accused of hanging nooses in a tree at the high school shortly before the attack on Barker.
In September, a state appeals court vacated Bell’s conviction and ruled that he shouldn’t have been tried as an adult. Bell is due in juvenile court early next month — also before Mauffray — and has a tentative trial date of Dec. 6.
Judge named as defendant
In a one-page ruling, Mauffray indicated he recused himself because he was named as a defendant in the news media’s litigation. Mauffray is the only judge assigned to the Lasalle Parish court where Bell’s case is being heard. Dan Zimmerman, an attorney for the news organizations, said the judge would have been in a “difficult position” if he had to review his own decision.
Criminal cases involving juveniles in Louisiana are usually sealed, but lawyers for the news organizations argue that aggravated second-degree battery is one of the violent offenses that allows a juvenile court case to be opened to the public.
I'm not sure if in fact is a good idea to open this court case to the public.
This was and is still an emotionally charged situation and I don't believe everyone will be mindful of court protocol, nor that court will be in process. There are those who cannot leave their emotions out in the parking lot, and I believe should this case be allowed to proceed in public, it will become a spectacle...however,I do hope I'm wrong.
While I believe transcripts should be made readily available (highly unlikely since this is in regards to a juvenile), I also believe it will be met with regret should this court allow the public to viw court proceedings. Again, I hope i'm wrong.