Fight for Peterson records continues

06/25/2003 8:55 AM

11/20/2007 6:40 AM

Media lawyers filed two motions Tuesday in an attempt to gain access to records in Scott Peterson's double-murder case.

Charity Kenyon, an attorney for The Bee and other news agencies, filed a motion in Stanislaus County Superior Court opposing District Attorney Jim Brazelton's request to seal a post-arrest search warrant.

Kenyon also filed a petition with the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno to support a judge's ruling that eight search warrants be made public. The defense has asked the court to reverse that order.

Kenyon declined to comment.

James Chadwick, a First Amendment attorney from Palo Alto, said the media traditionally have had easy access to such warrants, which by law become public within 10 days unless a judge seals them.

Since the high-profile O.J. Simpson murder case in 1994, however, the trend has been toward tighter controls.

"Judges are somewhat offended by a lot of media scrutiny, by what they would characterize as a media circus-type atmosphere," Chadwick said. "They feel it's their obligation to impose order on that situation."

Chadwick said the court could ensure a fair trial by moving the trial or sequestering the jury.

He also said he did an extensive study on the effect of pretrial publicity and could not find a California court that reversed a conviction because a defendant had been denied a fair trial.

"It didn't used to be a big issue; the media used to consistently get these documents in a matter of course in all kinds of cases," Chadwick said.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have argued that releasing the information would jeopardize Peterson's chances of getting a fair trial.

He is accused of murdering his wife, Laci Peterson, and their unborn son, Conner. The district attorney is seeking the death penalty.

Judge Al Girolami is set to hear arguments about the latest post-arrest search warrant Thursday morning.

He previously sealed an arrest warrant, a post-arrest search warrant and two addenda that list items taken during a search.

He also sealed autopsy reports and issued a gag order that prevents attorneys on both sides from discussing the evidence.

Why the latest warrant was needed remains unclear. The district attorney's filing describes it as a search warrant and affidavit that "contains much of the same information" that the court has sealed.

Eight more search warrants are set to become part of the public record July 8 unless the appeals court reverses Superior Court Judge Roger M. Beauchesne's order.

In a June 12 ruling, Beauchesne said a large amount of pretrial publicity doesn't justify keeping records under seal.

Bee staff writer Susan Herendeen can be reached at 578-2338 or sherendeen@modbee.com.

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