Attorneys allege judge abused court’s discrection in closing hearings

By Deanna Boyd
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Originally published May 9, 2014

State District Judge Jean Boyd abused the court’s discretion when she recently barred the media and public from two juvenile hearings, attorneys for several local media outlets allege in a court petition filed Friday.

The petition, filed Friday afternoon with Fort Worth’s Second District Court of Appeals, is the latest in a legal fight that began after Boyd tossed reporters and other members of the public from two juvenile proceedings involving a 16-year-old boy accused of fatally beating a 17-year-old acquaintance with a hammer.

The teen, identified in court records as R.J.D., pleaded guilty to capital murder in the killing of Nicholas Anderson, a former middle school classmate. He was sentenced to 26 years behind bars.

Neither side had requested the hearing closures and prosecutors, in fact, objected, according to the petition.

The petition argues that in closing the teen’s Jan. 10 certification hearing and a Jan. 22 disposition hearing, Boyd abused the court’s discretion in the following ways:

• She violated the Texas Family Code, under which juvenile proceedings are presumed open if the accused child is at least 14 years of age unless “good cause” is shown.

•  She didn’t conduct an evidentiary hearing in open court to allow the media and public to be heard and determine if such closures were warranted.

•  She closed the juvenile proceedings based on an unspecified concern that not doing so could “taint the jury pool.”

•  She refused to release the transcripts of the hearings after the proceedings were concluded.

During a March hearing, in which Boyd denied a request to make records from the case public, Tarrant County assistant District Attorney Riley Shaw argued that he didn’t believe the judge had the right to close the hearing on her own accord without at least a request from the defendant.

“In these proceedings, no evidence was offered by either party,” Shaw said. “There’s no evidence whatsoever that the (defendant) was in danger of being prejudiced in any way. His attorneys weren’t asking for it. The State was opposing it. No good cause showing was made at all. No evidence. Nothing …”

Boyd, who is retiring in December from the position she has held since 1994, responded, “I disagree.”

In the petition, filed on behalf of the Star-Telegram, the Dallas Morning News and KTVT-TV, KXAS-TV, KDFW Fox 4 and WFAA-TV, attorneys Tom Williams and Paul Watler requested that the Court of Appeals order Boyd to vacate her previous closure orders and make public upon request transcripts from the closed hearings.

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