The New York Times, CBS News, NBC and several other media companies on
Thursday challenged an attempt by prosecutors in the George Zimmerman murder
case to keep secret any subpoenas issued by defense attorneys and whatever
evidence they might produce.
What Special Prosecutor Angela Corey is asking Circuit Judge Debra S. Nelson, according to a motion prepared by the media companies, is unjustifiable and out of line with what's required under Florida law.
"Closure simply cannot be ordered on a blanket, presumptive basis," wrote Scott Ponce, a Miami attorney representing more than a dozen news organizations, including The Wall Street Journal, Associated Press, The Tampa Bay Times and The Miami Herald.
At issue is Trayvon Martin's school records. Last month, O'Mara issued subpoenas, demanding Miami-Dade school officials produce records that would reveal the reason he was serving a 10-day suspension at the time of his death and any previous disciplinary issues.
The information also would reveal his grades, test scores, attendance records and other things, none of which is typically public information.
Police reported that Trayvon had been suspended after authorities found him on school property with an empty marijuana baggie. The Miami Herald reported he had been suspended earlier after he had defaced a door and was found with several pieces of women's jewelry in his backpack as well as a screwdriver, which they described as a burglary tool.
Lead prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda filed paperwork, asking the judge to keep secret whatever those subpoenas revealed. He also asked the judge to seal all future defense subpoena requests, at least until she could review them and decide whether they should be made public, and to hold secret hearings, if need be, to discuss the subpoenas and the evidence they produced with attorneys.
In the media legal paperwork sent Thursday to De la Rionda and O'Mara, Ponce wrote that Florida case law does not allow what prosecutors are requesting: a blanket sealing of all future defense subpoenas and the evidence they produce, as well as an order prohibiting the public from attending future hearings about those issues.
The judge may decide that certain things should be kept from the public, Ponce wrote, but she must do it on an issue-by-issue basis and only after evaluating each subpoena and the evidence it produces to determine whether their release poses a threat to the administration of justice.
De la Rionda had chastised defense attorney Mark O'Mara's request for Trayvon's school records as a fishing expedition and one meant to turn up dirt on Trayvon.
In paperwork filed last week, O'Mara argued that he was merely gathering evidence and following a "well thought out plan to focus on potentially relevant and admissible information."
He also pointed out that prosecutors had gathered Zimmerman's high-school records from Manassas, Va. "Yet, when the same exact documents are requested regarding Trayvon Martin, the state denigrates the request as a fishing expedition," O'Mara writes. "The irony is rich."
Zimmerman, 29, a Neighborhood Watch volunteer, is charged with second-degree murder. He shot Trayvon, an unarmed black 17-year-old, Feb. 26 in Sanford after calling police and describing him as suspicious.
Zimmerman says he fired in self-defense after Trayvon attacked him, pinned him to the ground and was pounding his head on a sidewalk.
Jeff Weiner contributed to this report.
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