New Castle News

February 23, 2012

Superior Court: No media in Jordan Brown case

Nancy Lowry
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Jordan Brown’s case will remain closed to the news media, the Pennsylvania Superior Court ruled yesterday.

In a 33-page opinion, a three-judge panel affirmed the order of Lawrence County Judge John W. Hodge’s order that closed proceedings to the public and news media.

That is typically the case of all hearings involving juveniles.

Three newspapers, including The New Castle News, filed appeals saying that after almost three years of pretrial publicity, it is too late to protect the youth’s privacy.

 Appeals also were filed by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

Jordan, 14, faces two counts of homicide following the Feb. 20, 2009 shooting of Kenzie Marie Houk, 26, the pregnant fiancee of his father, Chris Brown.

Jordan remains in custody at the Edmund M. Thomas Adolescent Center in Erie.

He was 11 years old when the shooting occurred, and initially was charged as an adult. The case was transferred to juvenile court on Aug. 23.

The ruling came two days after the third anniversary of the shooting.

NO MERIT

“The judges felt (the newspapers’) arguments  had no merit,” defense attorney Dennis Elisco commented yesterday. “They ruled in our favor, upholding what we had argued for, that the proceedings remain closed. This is what we had requested. We are satisfied.”

Elisco and co-defense counsel Stephen Colafella will argue before the Superior Court next month that Jordan should be released from custody, pending his hearing. No date has yet been set for that proceeding.

New Castle News publisher Larry Corvi said he will review the ruling before determining whether the newspaper will  appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

“I was surprised by the ruling,” he said. “I believed the newspapers had a strong case.”

News attorney James Manolis, who submitted a brief and argued before the appeals court on Jan. 10, said he is disappointed.

“It is an unfortunate day for the news media and their efforts to keep the public informed of the heinous criminal events that occur in their community,” he said.

Manolis said he will discuss the ruling with Corvi and attorneys for the other two newspapers, which may or may not choose to proceed.

“If there is a next step, it could be to reargue the case before the Superior Court, or to file a petition seeking approval to appeal to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania,” he said.

Manolis explained “there is no automatic right” to be heard by the Supreme Court.

“You must ask the court if they want to hear the case. If it is granted, the process is the same as for the Superior Court.”

Manolis said he believes the issue “is significant enough that the Supreme Court may want to hear it.”

An appeal must be filed within 30 days.



ARGUMENTS REJECTED

Judge Jacqueline Shogan, writing the opinion on behalf of herself, and Judges Kate Ford Elliott and Robert Coville, said the news media arguments lacked merit.

The court rejected arguments to open proceedings, saying that said although extensive pretrial information has been publicized, further publicity would hurt the child’s opportunity for rehabilitation under the juvenile system.

Although the public is not excluded from delinquency hearings involving alleged felonies committed by juveniles age 14 and older and “certain felonies” allegedly committed by children age 12 and 13, Shogan said that denying public access to  juvenile proceedings “serves an important governmental interest” by protecting the privacy rights of children “under a particular age.”

The court was not swayed by arguments that pretrial publicity has been pervasive and noted that private and personal information that should not be open to public scrutiny could be considered. This additional publicity could  result in serious psychological and emotional harm, according to the opinion.

The court also rejected assertions of the news media, that extensive pretrial publicity in the case negates the juvenile’s expectation of privacy.

“When the case transferred to juvenile court system, the minor child is automatically entitled to the protections provided under the juvenile act,” the opinion stated.

“The court has serious reservations about its ability to ensure any minor child can be properly rehabilitated if the dispositional and review hearings are reviewed and analyzed by the news media and subsequently by the general public.

“There is no alternative (short of closing juvenile proceedings) which will adequately serve the privacy interests of (Jordan),” the opinion states.