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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Commentary: Davis Enterprise Gets It Right And Calls the Yolo County Courts On Their Conduct

It is one thing to see the Davis Vanguard complain about the conduct of public officials something that is in many ways our raison d'être. It is another thing when the Davis Enterprise does it.

Yesterday's Vanguard blog entry elicited complaints by among others Matt Rexroad and Val Dolcini, two people that the Vanguard respects tremendously despite their sometimes divergent views. One person went as far as to question whether it was a slow news day--which seemed a bit strange given that it had been a major story in both the Sacramento Bee and the Davis Enterprise.

Nothing compares however to the shock encountered reading the Davis Enterprise's Op-Ed entitled "Disturbing Pattern in Yolo Courts."

The Enterprise goes on to write:
"The issue: Wednesday's lockout of the press and suspect's family is just the latest in a string of abuses

Can Marco Antonio Topete get a fair trial in Yolo County? If there are any more shenanigans like those pulled Wednesday by sheriff's deputies and a court commissioner in Yolo Superior Court, we're not so sure."
More often than not from our view, the Enterprise has been part and parcel to this problem, however, we welcome them to the ballgame on this issue.

In defending the actions of the court here, Supervisor Matt Rexroad inadvertently made a key point when he said:
"They made a mistake under some difficult emotional circumstances."
If that is true, and it may be - we are not necessarily suggesting this was maliciousthen perhaps the Davis Enterprise is right, that the defendant cannot get a fair trial in this county.

The Davis Enterprise went on to write:
"During the proceeding, a gag order was imposed on the case, preventing participants from discussing the matter with the media. While transcripts of the hearing were later made available, the action in the court is a violation of the First Amendment.

Charity Kenyon, a media attorney representing The Davis Enterprise, The Sacramento Bee, News 10 and KCRA3 on the matter, wrote a letter Thursday to Judge David Rosenberg, who has been assigned to the Topete case. She cited the sense from the news outlets involved 'that more than a few court personnel operate on the principle that 'no news is good news.' "
They continue:
"THE YOLO COURT has a tendency to slap a gag order on every high-profile case that comes along, making it difficult for the public to get even basic information about a case from attorneys or law enforcement. Meanwhile, Kenyon said, 'The California and U.S. supreme courts have recognized that public access to court records and proceedings enhances and is an essential component of a fair trial.'

Educating the officers of the court and law enforcement personnel is the best way to prevent a repeat of this pattern. They need to learn that shielding victims from paparazzi is not the same thing as blatantly blocking the public's right to know.

Veteran Davis criminal defense attorney Rod Beede said deputies should have known the rules about open court proceedings. Just last week, the defendant in the Stevens slaying was sentenced to death after more than 21⁄2 years of hearings.

'Whenever you have a particularly high-profile case, especially when the victim is a member of the Sheriff's Department, a very, very close watch needs to be conducted on the whole thing,' Beede said. 'Anything that segregates the case as a different case is troubling.'"
On this issue, the Davis Enterprise is absolutely correct.

No one wants to disparage the memory of the slain Sheriff's deputy. However, the defendant is just as entitled to a fair trial in this case as anyone else. Mistakes happen, particularly when emotions are running high. For those reasons, it seems to be a wise move to shift this trial to another county to ensure the fair treatment of the defendant and the public in this matter.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting