A media request for broader court transparency and increased access to legal documents in the trials of the six Baltimore police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray will be considered in a downtown courtroom at 9:30 a.m. on May 10, according to an order issued Tuesday by Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams.
That is the same scheduled start time for the trial of Officer Edward Nero, the first of the six officers scheduled to appear in court since the mistrial of Officer William Porter in December. A court spokeswoman said it was not immediately clear whether motions filed by prosecutors and defense attorneys in Nero's case will also be considered that morning. Pre-trial motions are often heard on the first day of a scheduled trial, but also can be heard in advance.
The media motion was filed Jan. 5, days after The Baltimore Sun reported that sealed documents were being filed in the officers' cases and that Williams had asked the 12-member jury in Porter's case not to discuss their deliberations or their inability to reach a unanimous decision on any of the four charges against the officer.
The motion asks for access to sealed documents, trial transcripts, evidence, and moments during the officers' trials when jurors leave the courtroom to view evidence. It also condemns any court action admonishing jurors not to talk about their experiences after their service is concluded as "unconstitutional prior restraint" on free speech.
It argues the sealing of documents in the cases to date has been done without regard to Maryland requirements that notice be given and that the process be narrowly tailored, and that a 2010 administrative order — cited by the court to block the release of court transcripts from Porter's mistrial until "a decision, verdict or judgment has been reached" — violates the First Amendment because it does not present a "compelling reason" for why it was needed and was not tailored narrowly either in scope or duration.
It argues the 2010 order, put in place amid the trial of then-Mayor Sheila Dixon for embezzling gift cards, allows judges and attorneys to hold bench conferences — discussions at the judge's bench that can't be heard in open court — and "effectively shield that portion of any proceeding from public access until the entire case is over, or potentially forever."
In addition to The Baltimore Sun, the media coalition includes Bloomberg News, Hearst Stations, Inc., ABC News, Associated Press, CBS News, CNN, Fox News, The Guardian, NBC News, Sinclair Broadcast, Inc., The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, WJZ, WMAR, and the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Nathan Siegel, an attorney for the media outlets, said in a statement Wednesday that they "look forward to the opportunity to discuss with Judge Williams the important role that public access plays in these trials."
Prosecutors in the office of Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby and attorneys for the six officers are all barred by a gag order from discussing the case.
Gray, 25, died almost a year ago, on April 19, after suffering severe neck injuries in the back of a police transport van. His death sparked widespread protests and his funeral on April 27 was followed by a night of rioting, looting and arson that drew international attention to the case. Mosby charged the six officers on May 1. All have pleaded not guilty.
None of the jurors in the Porter trial spoke publicly about their experiences. However, the Sun, citing sources familiar with the deliberations, including an anonymous juror, exclusively reported in January that the panel had split 11-1 in favor of acquittal on involuntary manslaughter; 8-2 in favor of acquittal on second-degree assault, with two undecided; 7-3 in favor of conviction on reckless endangerment, with two undecided; and 10-1 in favor of conviction on misconduct in office, with one undecided.
Nero is charged with second-degree assault, two counts of misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. Following his trial, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. is scheduled to be tried in June, and Lt. Brian Rice and Officer Garrett Miller are both scheduled to be tried, separately, in July. Porter is set to be retried in September, and Sgt. Alicia White is set to be tried in October.
The media coalition has asked for immediate relief ahead of the upcoming trials, as well as retroactive relief to allow for the release of documents in Porter's mistrial.