The Ohio judge who will be presiding over the trial of two high school football players in the Steubenville rape case made three key rulings yesterday.
Judge Thomas Lipps ruled against the defense attorneys’ request to have the trial moved elsewhere due to alleged witness “intimidation” in the small city on the West Virginia border. (The trial, in juvenile court, will not be heard by a jury, so that was not a factor.) But he postponed the trial about a month, to March 13, as those attorneys requested.
But he denied an appeal from the prosecution, and went along with a demand by the media, and decided that it would be open to the public and the press, not closed.
This is sure to be hotly debated in the divided region, and elsewhere, as the trial approaches.
The victim and the accused in the case are only 16. She has not been named by the mainstream press but the identities of the two boys emerged long ago in local, then national, media. The case has played out extensively, since the night of the attack, on social media. Protests supporting the victim, and calling for more charges against those who allegedly took part or helped out in the sexual attack, have turned out in large numbers in the town—as have those protesting the prosecution, and media, handling of the case.
Lipps’ decision Wednesday to open the rape trial to the media is considered “unusual in that traditionally juvenile proceedings have been shrouded in secrecy to protect children,” said CNN legal analyst Paul Callan.
“Historically, most U.S. states have restricted public and press access to juvenile proceedings,” Callan said. “In recent years, though, there has been a trend toward opening the secretive juvenile justice system to public scrutiny, especially where a serious felony has been charged.”
The judge, indeed, declared that the seriousness of the charges meant the public has an interest in the outcome. But he also said: “An open hearing is especially valuable where rumors, mischaracterizations and opinions unsupported by facts have reportedly been repeated in social media postings and other published outlets. An open hearing will diminish the influence of such postings and publications.”