Media groups want access to the sealed records of Mychal Bell, the Black youth who was convicted for his role in beating a White classmate in the tiny Louisiana town of Jena.
He and five other young Black males were charged with attempted murder in the incident, but the charges were reduced amid an outcry from Black leaders, civil rights advocates, students and others, who in 2007 marched 20,000 strong on the community of a couple thousand residents. Bell later pleaded guilty to a juvenile charge of second-degree battery.
In a motion filed last week, the media asked for access to records in the Bell case, which ended with a guilty plea, but the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeal in Lake Charles remanded it to the state court for a decision.
The media outlets had argued that the proceedings against Bell be held in open court, but District Judge J.P. Maufray, refused. The 3rd Circuit ruled that Maufray did not have authority to close the juvenile court proceedings, but did not rule on the media request to open Bell’s records.
In their motion, the media groups said that “the sealing of the court record violates the ‘Open Courts’ provision,” which requires all proceedings in this case to be open to the public. “The Court Orders substantially limit the News Media’s ability to report to the public the facts about this significant case and unconstitutionally stifle the flow of information to the public,” they said in their petition for intervention.