All aspects of trials should be public
Aug. 8, 2001
The defendant in a local murder case, extradited from Louisiana last week to the Lauderdale County jail, was allowed to enter a plea Monday in the privacy of the circuit judge's chambers as supporters, friends and family members waited in the courtroom for the hearing to begin.
Circuit Judge Larry Roberts said it is not uncommon to arraign defendants in chambers.
The problem here is that, unlike most cases, there were members of the public present in the courtroom who wanted to witness the proceeding. Three people came to support Peggy Sloan Starns, indicted for murder in the 1984 death of Angela Schnoor.
The victim's parents, now divorced, were present in the courtroom. Her sister was there, as was her mom's fianc. The special assistant attorney general who led the re-investigation of Angela Schnoor's death was present, having presumably driven from Jackson to witness the arraignment.
The judge's chambers are not accessible to the general public, and it is not a good idea to keep private a part of the judicial process that citizens have a right to see especially if they're in the courtroom waiting to see it.
Why this particular defendant was accorded such treatment has not been adequately explained. We can think of no legitimate reason why her desire for privacy should outweigh the constitutional right of the public to view the proceeding. We believe Judge Larry Roberts owes the public a better explanation.