A man who directed the mother of an eight-year-old girl to molest the child while he watched on a webcam was not denied a fair trial when the judge barred his parents from the courtroom while the victim testified, a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said Friday.
The judges parted only on whether Eastern District Judge Nicholas Garaufis (See Profile) fulfilled his responsibility to consider reasonable alternatives before closing the courtroom.
In United States v. Ledee, 13-2363-cr, the victim’s father had told the court that his daughter, who was 10 years old at the time of trial, would be emotionally unable to testify in an open court. Garaufis ordered all but about 25 people to leave, including defendant Michael Ledee’s parents. Only jurors, court staff, legal teams and the girl’s father remained while she testified.
On appeal, Ledee argued that his Sixth Amendment right to a public trial was violated. The circuit disagreed.
In an opinion by Judge John Walker Jr. (See Profile) and joined by Judge Richard Wesley (See Profile), the court said Garaufis “reasonably confined the closure to those who were not necessary to the functioning of the trial.”
Walker said that because of the girl’s trauma, Garaufis did not err in concluding that there were no reasonable alternatives to closure, but added that the better practice would be to “err on the side of caution by considering the widest possible array of alternatives.”
“Because Ledee has posited no identifiable reasonable alternatives to closure … and we can think of none, we find no error,” Walker said. Judge Rosemary Pooler (See Profile) dissented.
Pooler said she may have joined the majority “on a fully developed record.” But here, she said, the record was insufficient.
“[I] cannot escape [the Supreme Court's] clear directive that the district court make findings as to why there were no reasonable alternatives to closing the courtroom to Ledee’s parents, and as no such findings exist here, I respectfully dissent,” Pooler wrote.
The appeal was argued April 30 by Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Tiana Demas for the government and David Lewis of Federal Defenders of New York for the defendant.