New Castle News

November 29, 2011

Boy’s lawyer argues against opening trial

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Past publicity is no reason to open the trial of Jordan Brown to the press.

That’s a key argument in a brief the boy’s attorney, Dennis Elisco, has submitted to the Pennsylvania Superior Court, which is hearing an appeal filed by the New Castle News and two other newspapers.

At issue is access to Jordan’s juvenile proceedings. The 14-year-old faces two counts of homicide in the February 2009 shooting death of Kenzie Houk and her unborn son.

Houk, who was shot in the family’s home, was engaged to marry Jordan’s father, Christopher Brown. Jordan was 11 at the time of the shooting.

He was charged as an adult, as required by Pennsylvania law. The case received extensive publicity — locally, regionally, nationally and even internationally. But in August, after an appeals process of more than two years, Lawrence County President Judge Dominick Motto ordered the boy’s case be transferred to the juvenile system.

He was scheduled for trial Sept. 27 before Lawrence County Judge John Hodge, but attempts by The News and the other two papers to open proceedings led to another round of legal action after Hodge denied their requests.

The state Superior Court is now accepting briefs from attorneys for Jordan and the newspapers after the three papers appealed Hodge’s decision.

Elisco’s brief, entered last week with the appeals court, responds to those submitted earlier by the newspapers. In his filing, Elisco acknowledges that details regarding Jordan’s case have been widely publicized, but rejects the papers’ arguments that this effectively eliminates any privacy rights the boy possesses.

Elisco points out Jordan did not seek out the publicity this case has received. “Through no fault of the juvenile in question,” Elisco wrote, “the public exposure was brought about wholly by a procedural requirement in the criminal justice system ...” a reference to the fact that all juveniles charged with homicide in the commonwealth automatically are treated as adults.

The resultant publicity, Elisco argues, “does not require the juvenile to subsequently waive his privacy protections ... once transferred to juvenile court.”

The attorney goes on to cite a prior court decision where the media sought access to a juvenile proceeding. The request was refused, in part, because the juvenile had taken no action seeking publicity.

Elisco notes Jordan “has not yet been adjudicated a delinquent for the offense charged, and as such, there is no finding of legal effect that it was said juvenile who, through his actions, brought about the public attention that has been garnered from this case.”

The Superior Court will hear oral arguments on the appeal prior to ruling. No date for those arguments has been set.