September Editorial Winner

Victory for Openness: Criminal cases need to remain open, transparent

ROB COLLINS, Enid News & Eagle

On Tuesday, we expect all records related to the dismissed felony perjury charge filed against an Enid attorney to be expunged.
That means the records regarding the case essentially will disappear after being released one week before.
For nearly four months, the Enid News & Eagle fought with Eric Edwards' attorney, Stephen Jones, over the manner in which the records of the charge were sealed and removed from public view.
All records in the case, which was dismissed in July, will remain open to public view in the Major County Court Clerk's office until Tuesday.
Then they will be removed pursuant to a motion to expunge filed by Jones.
Why did the News & Eagle fight for this? We believe the courts were created to be a branch of state government, public and open, and ultimately accountable to voters.
If Oklahoma's courts are able to charge, convict, sentence and punish people — all in secret — we should all be afraid.
In this case, District Judge Ray Dean Linder did not show proper reason, or proper procedure, for sealing any records in this matter, let alone making the entire case secret.
What was in the unsealed case file? There was nothing new, really, but that's not the point.
In this case, we basically had a dispute of whether or not one attorney threatened another and later denied it.
Newly assigned Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater dropped the perjury charge because it lacked merit and was reassigned.
Grady County District Judge Richard Van Dyck granted his motion.
The decision to dismiss the charge did not address our concern.
It should have been handled as other such charges are handled — with public records in open court.
We hope other judges take note of Van Dyck's decision to unseal the records.
The court system was designed to serve the public, all Oklahomans, and criminal cases need to remain open and transparent.
When cases are improperly closed, it gives the appearance of favoritism or improper treatment.
With openness, Oklahomans can have greater confidence in their court system.
Even if it just lasts one week.