Zumba and freedom of the press


First, here's a shout out to us, for having our blog cited in Inter Media's blawg of the day last week –http://www.inter-alia.net/2013/01/16/blawg-of-the-day-maine-appeals-blog/  There goes our 15 minutes of fame.

It's a lot to live up to, and so we will talk about – Zumba! Yes, the infamous Kennebunk case has reached Maine SJC.  http://www.courts.state.me.us/opinions_orders/supreme/lawcourt/2013/13me12st.pdf

No, nothing to do with the merits.  This is the press appeal to get to watch the voir dire of one of the defendants, Mark Strong.  In a lickety-split decision, the Court, with Justice Alexander dissenting, reversed an order denying access to the ongoing voir dire by the press and public. 

The SJC vacated the order of the Superior Court (Mills, J.), remanding "to conduct the remaining voir dire in a presumptively public manner, exercising its considerable discretion to prevent the dissemination of sensitive juror information."  As to the voir dire already conducted, public access "can be addressed, again at the court's discretion, by the release of appropriately redacted transcripts." 

It looks like there was no separate briefing for the Court, only the press intervenor's petition/appeal, and that the SJC ruled based only on that and whatever it had from the record below, because the opinion states that "the urgency of this matter has resulted in an order entered without direct input to the Court from the State and the defendant," and "in order to assure that we have not overlooked any aspect of the parties' positions," provides that if the state, defendant or the press intervenor wants to file a motion to reconsider, they should tell the trial court and clerk of the Law Court by 2:00 pm today and file the motion with the clerk by 4 pm today.

Justice Alexander dissented, saying that he "would not grant such extraordinary relief based on the one-sided request of a newspaper publisher, without full understanding of the reasons for the trial judge's action, and without even hearing the positions of the State and the defense in this difficult proceeding."  He goes on to recite the four-prong test for injunctive relief and states that none of the prongs was demonstrated, then briefly discusses the existing law on public access to voir dire and the reasoning as articulated by the Superior Court in making its ruling.

The interesting point to me is the nature of the ruling.  Typically if an appellate court is in a rush to make a ruling, it sends out a two-liner with the bottom-line ruling, saying "opinion to follow."   Then, in the fullness of time, the court crafts its supporting written decision, explaining its reasoning.  Here, however, the SJC decided to issue their whole opinion, which doesn't contain a lot of legal analysis.  Instead, the Court gives the parties who haven't had an opportunity to speak to it an avenue to rush in to seek reconsideration if they want, thus, unlike the "opinion to follow" approach, leaving open the possibility of changing its mind as to the bottom line ruling.  It's an interesting way to proceed.