The Ft. Worth Star-Telegram has asked a trial judge to reconsider his unusually restrictive order banning the public from attending any pretrial hearings in the cases of three former Texas Christian University athletes accused of sexually assaulting another student. State District Judge Wayne Salvant’s order forbids the media from reporting on any evidence presented during the hearings beyond listing witnesses and bars anyone from discussing the case with the media. The order was approved at the request of Gwinda Burns, a defense attorney who said pretrial publicity could hurt her client’s effort to get a fair trial.
A court clerk denied a Star-Telegram reporter’s request to view the case file late Friday afternoon. Joel R. White, an Austin attorney who specializes in First Amendment issues, called the order “shocking” and “over the top.” “Aside from being unconstitutional, it is an obvious violation of state law to conduct all of the hearings in chambers,” he said. “There is a specific statute in the Code of Criminal Procedure that says all proceedings in all courts shall be open.” He added: “The judge doesn’t have any business in this country telling newspapers what evidence they can print or can’t. The trial is a public event. Newspapers can print absolutely anything that transpires in the courtroom however they see fit.”