ACLU of North Carolina Asks North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission to Investigate Judge’s Decision to Close Courtroom in Blackwater Protesters’ Trial on Trespass Charges
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
RALEIGH – The American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina Legal Foundation (ACLU-NCLF) filed a complaint today with the North Carolina Judicial Standards Commission, asking the Commission to investigate a Currituck County district judge’s decision to clear the courtroom on December 5, 2007, during a criminal trial. The decision, made by Judge Edgar Barnes, came during the criminal trespass trial of seven individuals arrested in October 2007 after protesting on Blackwater USA’s property in Moyock. Based upon reports that the ACLU-NCLF received from several individuals who were present in the courtroom that day, including some of the defendants, several reporters and a concerned citizen, it appears that Judge Edgar Barnes held a significant portion of the trial behind closed doors, ordering sheriff’s deputies to clear the courtroom. Everyone, except the defendants, prosecutors, sheriff’s witnesses and a Blackwater official, was immediately barred from the trial. Reportedly, Judge Barnes did not give a reason for clearing the courtroom. Further, by all reports, there was no disruption on the part of the public attending the trial. Judge Barnes then proceeded to try the cases, finding all seven defendants guilty of trespassing.
The following statement may be attributed to Katherine Lewis Parker, Legal Director of the ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation:
“If the allegations we have heard from several different sources are true, Judge Barnes’s action violated the constitutional rights of not only the seven defendants, but also those of the press and the public. A public trial, guaranteed under the First and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution, is a right shared by the defendants and the public, the common concern being the assurance of fairness. We are very concerned about this reported disrespect for the laws of our land by a member of the judiciary, especially in a controversial and politically laden case such as this. Consequently, we have asked the Commission to conduct a thorough investigation and to take appropriate corrective action against Judge Barnes.”
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