November 11, 2005
One of those students, Jeanette Wasdin, attempted for several weeks to observe first-appearance hearings that are held at the jail during weekends. But she was never allowed inside. Late last month, a high-ranking jail official informed Wasdin that municipal court hearings at the jail on weekends are closed to the public. (Hearings during the week are held at the new Municipal Court building and are therefore open to the public.)
Wasdin requested additional information on why the court would not allow her to attend weekend hearings by way of letters that were hand-delivered, faxed and e-mailed -- all with no response. So she discussed the situation with Professor Cunningham and decided to take the question to the media in hopes of shedding light on the Atlanta Municipal Court’s procedures for weekend first-appearance hearings at the jail.
The resulting story is featured in the November 11 edition of the Journal-Constitution, which can be viewed online. (search)
According to Professor Cunningham, Wasdin’s work has brought to light an important problem in the Atlanta criminal justice system.
“Our courts cannot operate out of the public eye,” he said. “Our state constitution mandates that criminal proceedings be public except under rare circumstances. A court cannot avoid this constitutional mandate by deciding to hold hearings inside a jail. Excluding the public from these hearings shields the court from scrutiny and, of course, isolates citizens prosecuted by the City from the support and assistance of friends and family at a critical moment.”
The College of Law will keep readers informed on any further developments in policies surrounding Atlanta Municipal Court hearings as prompted by 3L Wasdin.