Judge reopens courtroom

A controversial policy had restricted
access for security reasons

HILO » A Big Island judge who closed his courtroom to the public in December when a jailed defendant was present has now officially withdrawn a policy that defense attorneys said could not be legally justified.

"After due consideration, the memorandum dated Dec. 23, 2004, regarding the Hilo District Court Courtroom Security is hereby rescinded," District Judge Matthew Pyun said in a memo written last week.

That memorandum, issued two days after Pyun closed his courtroom, restricted access to the courtroom for security reasons and said deputy sheriffs should place themselves "in front of the courtroom facing the spectators in a position to prevent any attack on attorneys or staff."

A public defender representing a client before the judge and news media objected to any closure of the court.

The Public Defender's Office asked Circuit Judge Glenn Hara to order Pyun to open his courtroom. Deputy Public Defender Melody Parker argued that Pyun had violated her client's constitutional right to a speedy and public trial by holding a closed hearing.

Hara agreed last month that Pyun had closed his courtroom to the public on Dec. 21, but said Parker failed to prove that Pyun had actually continued the policy.

On Dec. 27 the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today petitioned the Hawaii Supreme Court for a writ to order Pyun to keep his courtroom open.

Pyun argued in response that the newspapers lacked standing because they could not establish they had been denied access to his courtroom. The Supreme Court gave the newspapers more time to file supplemental materials after receiving Pyun's response.

The newspapers' attorney, Jeff Portnoy, said he has asked the state attorney general's office, which represents Pyun, for a written affirmation that the judge's policy will not be reinstated, except on a case-by-case basis.

Portnoy says he believed the judge backed down and rescinded his memo because of its "patent unconstitutionality."

Hawaii State Judiciary

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