'Right to know': Not just words

'Right to know': Not just words'Right to know': Not just words
Article Launched: 02/21/2008 01:32:01 AM PST

The Times-Standard is gratified that Superior Court Judge John Feeney on Tuesday upheld the First Amendment and its counterpart in the California Constitution that say court records are presumed to be open to the public unless they are expressly ordered sealed under strictly defined legal tests.

After a legal back-and-forth dating back to last year, when a criminal grand jury handed up indictments of former Eureka Police Chief David Douglas and Lt. Anthony Zanotti in the Cheri Lyn Moore shooting case, Judge Feeney found for the Times-Standard and released the transcripts of the testimony and deliberations. Still to be released, pending review by defense counsel, are a video of the hearing and exhibits that were presented.

The lawyers for Douglas and Zanotti were within their rights -- and indeed probably were obligated to their clients -- to argue that release of the transcripts might taint the jury pool, should the case go to trial. The Times-Standard argued, and the judge agreed, that the defense had not offered any basis for concluding that sealing or redacting testimony and arguments would threaten chances for a fair trial.

Making a stand for freedom of information can sometimes be costly, but it's a duty that the American press has been proud to exercise for more than 200 years, and we hope it will always do so.

It's fitting that this decision in Humboldt County comes just before Sunshine Week, March 16-22, a national initiative to open a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information. Participants include not only print, broadcast and online news media, but also civic groups, libraries, non-profits, schools and others interested in the public's right to know.

Open government is important to liberals, conservatives and everyone in between, for without the free flow of information, the democratic system cannot work.

In Humboldt County this week, it worked.