Press Barred From Hearings for Boys Accused in Holdups
A Juvenile Court judge Monday ordered the press barred from pretrial proceedings for two Tarzana youths charged with the armed robbery of an Encino savings and loan.
Judge Burton S. Katz, citing extensive press coverage of 17-year-old Taft High School students Michael Morrison and Mark Berman since their arrest May 30, said further publicity about pretrial testimony while the case remains under Juvenile Court jurisdiction “would prejudice any juror who would be asked to try the case and would be asked to make a verdict.”
Paper’s Attorney Cites Statute
A newspaper attorney argued against closing the proceedings, citing an 18-month-old state law allowing press access to Juvenile Court proceedings involving certain serious felony offenses. The attorney, representing the Daily News, said he knew of no other cases in which proceedings had been closed under a clause in the statute allowing a judge to do so when there is “good cause.”
Morrison and Berman, who were 16 when arrested, are charged with the May 23 armed robbery of more than $4,000 from Encino Savings and Loan Assn. Morrison also has been charged with the Jan. 3 armed robbery of $1,200 from Barclays Bank in Tarzana. Both youths also have been charged with stealing three cars at gunpoint from May 16 to May 29.
The youths had been scheduled to appear Monday before Katz in Sylmar Juvenile Court for separate fitness hearings to determine whether they should be tried as adults.
But a defense attorney for Morrison, Roger Diamond, asked instead that Katz hear testimony on whether reporters should be barred from the courtroom during the fitness hearings.
During a more than two-hour hearing, Diamond argued that the publicity would make it difficult to gather an impartial jury in the event Katz orders the youths tried as adults. Cases in Juvenile Court are decided by a judge.
‘False and Prejudicial’
Diamond said “false and prejudicial information” was included in newspaper articles in the Los Angeles Times, the Daily News, and the Herald Examiner quoting a police detective who speculated that the youths might have had criminal training, revealing the criminal history of Morrison’s father and examining the youths’ family and school lives.
Diamond said that, because Katz has ordered attorneys, investigators and relatives connected to the case not to speak to reporters, he “cannot talk to the press to correct their misapprehensions.”
The attorney for the Daily News, Dan Marmalefsky, cited the publicity surrounding the John DeLorean case as evidence that the youths could receive a fair trial despite extensive news coverage.
Right to Attend Argued
“The Legislature has determined the public should have a right to attend juvenile proceedings in relation to certain crimes,” Marmalefsky argued in court. “What Mr. Diamond has to do is show that you cannot find 12 unprejudiced jurors if this case remains open to the press and he has not done that.”
But Katz said the psychiatric testimony and personal history that is presented during fitness hearings provides “inflammatory, explosive information that has no relation to guilt or innocence” and could prejudice a jury.
Katz rescheduled Morrison’s fitness hearing to July 2 so Marmalefsky could file a motion appealing the order by the end of the week. Berman’s fitness hearing was rescheduled to July 8.