News Sentinel files lawsuit over sealed court documents in UT rape case

The Knoxville News Sentinel filed a lawsuit today, after requesting for more than a year to inspect court records and exhibits in the aggravated rape cases against former Tennessee football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams.

The newspaper claims that Criminal Court Judge Bob McGee sealed records “without any petition or order to do so.” The newspaper was also told that Magistrate Ray H. Jenkins had sealed search warrant records, including a police investigator’s affidavit. Following is an excerpt from the News-Sentinel’s story, which you can read in full here: News Sentinel files lawsuit to unseal UT rape documents:

The lawsuit argues that evidence can be sealed to protect the constitutional rights of witnesses and parties involved in a trial, but only if a “proper and appropriate motion is made, notice is given to the public and an opportunity to appear and be heard in opposition to the motion” is allowed.

The court must then prove that there is a “compelling and overriding interest to grant the motion” to seal the evidence in question.

The News Sentinel argues that no such process occurred in this case, that the sealing of evidence is therefore “unconstitutional and invalid and that these restrictions should be lifted unless and until appropriate constitutionally mandated prerequisites have been met.”

The newspaper is seeking access to search warrant applications for Johnson’s apartment and DNA samples for Johnson and Williams as well as audio files and transcripts of Knoxville Police Department interviews with the alleged victim and other witnesses in the case.

What do you think?