Judge Tim Halloran says he’s running a courtroom, not a newsroom.
It’s a catchy retort that shows amazing contempt for a citizen’s right to know what government is doing.
While presiding late last week over a controversial arraignment of a Charleston policeman — Officer Sean Patrick stands accused of soliciting sex over the internet with someone he believed to be a 14-year-old — Halloran took the dictatorial step of barring local media from his court.
Get that? Judge Halloran unilaterally decided to close his courtroom to the people it serves. That’s you and I.
According to WSAZ-TV news operations manager Mike Waterhouse, who tried to cover the hearing, the judge told a security guard to “lock the doors and not let anyone back in the courtroom.”
In a telephone conversation, “He told me he would not release the (court hearing) paperwork, that I’d have to pick up a copy of it Monday from the clerk’s office,” Waterhouse told The West Virginia Record. “I then started to explain my right to get the information and he hung up on me.”
Halloran didn’t just hang up on Waterhouse. He hung up on all West Virginians.
It’s bad enough that a judge would bar public viewing of a public hearing. But Halloran compounded the debacle by denying Waterhouse access to public documents about the hearing.
What happens in our state’s public, taxpayer-funded courts system is the people’s business. Our right to know what happened in open court to Officer Patrick isn’t open to the discretion of a single man in robes, no matter how grand the ego.
The State Supreme Court should remind Judge Halloran of his responsibilities to the people of this state. If he prefers to preside in secret, there’s a dictatorship somewhere in the world that’s hiring. In West Virginia, his courtroom is open to the public and the press — a sort of newsroom in this instance — whether he likes it or not.