The First Department denied the Article 78 petition brought by news-media companies seeking to unseal the Molineux/Sandoval hearing transcript in the felony sexual misconduct prosecution of Harvey Weinstein. The presiding judge had closed the hearing to the public and sealed the record of it:
While the First Amendment guarantees the public and the press a qualified right of access to criminal trials … , this right of access may be limited where courtroom closure is necessitated by a compelling state governmental interest, and where the closure is narrowly tailored to serve that interest … . Such compelling interests may include the defendant’s right to a fair trial, including the right to “fundamental fairness in the jury selection process” … . …
Proceedings cannot be closed unless specific findings are made on the record, demonstrating that “closure is essential to preserve higher values and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest” … . Where the interest asserted is the right of the accused to a fair trial, specific findings must be made demonstrating that, “there is a substantial probability that the defendant’s right to a fair trial will be prejudiced by publicity that closure would prevent,” and “reasonable alternatives to closure cannot adequately protect the defendant’s fair trial rights” … .
The subject matter of the Molineux /Sandoval hearing – allegations of prior uncharged sexual offenses by the defendant, the admissibilty of which is disputed – was likely to be prejudicial and inflammatory. Further, some or all of the allegations may have been determined to be inadmissible at trial, or may not be offered at trial even if found potentially admissible. Contrary to petitioners’ suggestion, the People have represented that some of the information has not yet been made public. Matter of New York Times Co. v Burke, 2019 NY Slip Op 03903, First Dept 5-16-19