A district judge in Pennsylvania barred reporters from two local newspapers from observing a preliminary arraignment at the York County District Court on Sept. 9, 2020.
Dylan Segelbaum, a reporter for the daily newspaper the York Daily Record/Sunday News, told the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker that he and Logan Hullinger, a reporter for the morning newspaper York Dispatch, were prevented from entering the courtroom to observe the arraignment of Mike Cleveland. Cleveland is accused of embezzling almost $23,000 while serving as general manager of the York Ice Arena.
Segelbaum declined to comment further and Hullinger did not respond to an emailed request for comment as of press time.
Segelbaum reported in an article for the Daily Record that preliminary arraignments are held by judges to inform the accused of charges and the right to counsel, as well as to set bail. Such proceedings are “presumptively public proceedings,” Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, told the Daily Record. That means the proceedings are always assumed to be open to the public unless it would jeopardize the defendant’s right to a free trial.
The Daily Record reported that County District Judge Linda Williams refused to unlock the door to the courtroom for the reporters, saying that it was a hearing, not an arraignment. Williams also cited the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as justification and said she had arraignments via video scheduled for after the Cleveland proceeding.
“You can have all the information when I’m finished,” Williams said, according to the Daily Record.
Melewsky told the Daily Record that district judges do not have the authority to seal a record or proceeding that is defined as “presumptively public.” She noted that ensuring public access is crucial to equal treatment under the justice system.
“Public access guarantees that everyone is treated equally by the justice system, because everyone is subject to the same process — and anyone who’s interested can view,” Melewsky said. “The press functions as the eyes and the ears of the community they serve.”