Peterson bid to seal papers turned back

August 5, 2003 

A judge Monday denied a defense request to seal new documents that likely outline Scott Peterson's arguments for keeping wiretap evidence out of his double-murder trial.

Instead, Judge Al Girolami ordered the documents -- a motion to suppress wiretap evidence -- returned to defense attorneys. The judge gave the defense until Wednesday to refile.

The defense team submitted the motion Friday and asked for it to be kept from the public, possibly because it includes information already under seal.

According to Girolami's order Monday, the defense motion contained statements by the district attorney's office investigator who supervised two wiretaps on Peterson's phone, and it may hold other sealed information.

Judges in both Stanislaus County Superior Court and the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno have sealed documents ranging from autopsy reports to search warrants in the case.

Girolami has sealed hours of recordings and related documents from the wiretaps.

The defense has attacked the wiretaps in multiple court filings, alleging "grave prosecutorial misconduct" after investigators briefly monitored calls between Peterson and his attorney. Defense lawyers also said the wiretap law prosecutors relied on violates the state constitution.

Prosecutors maintain the wiretaps followed the law and the defense was trying to influence the court with "inflammatory language."

Girolami is to hear arguments on the wiretaps Sept. 9, the same date as a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence to hold Peterson over for trial.

Peterson is charged with murdering his wife, Laci, and the couple's unborn son, Conner. He could receive the death penalty if convicted on both counts.

Girolami returned the latest defense motion, noting it did not include a proper motion to seal court documents. Girolami said the defense could resubmit it with a proper motion to seal or delete the parts that legally had to be kept confidential.

Legal battles over sealed documents have surrounded the case against the 30-year-old fertilizer salesman.

In the weeks after his wife was reported missing Christmas Eve, police searched Peterson's home, vehicles, storage unit and warehouse. At the request of law enforcement, judges sealed the documents.

State law requires attorneys requesting to file documents under seal to include a legal argument for sealing and the facts that justify it.

The motion to seal must be filed in a redacted version for the public.

Also Monday, a coalition of newspapers, which includes The Bee, filed documents noting that defense and prosecution arguments against television cameras at the Sept. 9 preliminary hearing do not apply to still cameras used by newspaper photographers.

Bee staff writer John Coté can be reached at 578-2394 or jcote@modbee.com.

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