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2ND CIRCUIT SAYS JUDGE DENIED PUBLIC ACCESS NEW YORK — A guilty plea and a sentence have been overturned by a federal appeals court because Southern District of New York Judge Shirley Wohl Kram accepted the plea and handed down the sentencing in the robing room. The Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals on Monday found that the robing room sessions violated the public’s qualified First Amendment right of access to criminal proceedings. The court said it was exercising its rarely used “supervisory powers” to remand the cases “for proceedings to be held in open court.” “Holding these significant criminal proceedings behind closed doors — without notice to the public or any statements of reason for the closure — is inconsistent with our open system of justice,” Judge Chester Straub wrote. The court said Judge Kram offered no reason or explanation for accepting the plea and ordering the sentence in the robing room. A government brief said holding such proceedings in the robing room was “in accordance with Judge Kram’s customary practice.” The Second Circuit said Judge Kram had failed to follow the circuit’s procedures for giving the public notice, and a chance to object, to closed-door hearings. Luz Marina Munoz pleaded guilty before Judge Kram on Dec. 19, 2001, to a single count of conspiracy to distribute 500 or more grams of cocaine. She was sentenced to three years and 10 months in prison. On appeal, she claimed that the acceptance of the plea in the robing room instead of in open court violated the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and Sixth Amendment right to a public trial. — New York Law Journal EX-WORLDCOM CHIEF’S TRIAL OPENS IN N.Y. NEW YORK — Opening statements in Bernard Ebbers’ trial on Tuesday painted starkly contrasting pictures of his role in the $11 billion scandal that rocked the onetime telecommunications giant WorldCom. Prosecutors blamed Ebbers, the former chief executive of WorldCom, of orchestrating a massive accounting fraud that inflated revenues and mischaracterized expenses in an attempt to prop up the company’s sagging stock during the 2000-01 economic slump. The motive, said lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney David Anders, was Ebbers’ desperation to avoid financial ruin. Defense lawyer Reid Weingarten of Washington, D.C.’s Steptoe & Johnson placed the blame on Scott Sullivan, the company’s former chief financial officer. According to the defense, it was Sullivan, not Ebbers, who masterminded the accounting fraud and has now turned on Ebbers to save his own neck. Ebbers, 63, is accused of nine counts of securities fraud, conspiracy and filing false public reports. If convicted in the jury trial before Southern District of New York Judge Barbara Jones, he will face up to 85 years in jail. WorldCom was a flagship of the booming telecommunications market in the late 1990s. With Ebbers at the helm, the company mushroomed through a spree of acquisitions and mergers, even swallowing long-distance giant MCI. By 2000, though, the telecom market began to sag and WorldCom with it. Eventually, WorldCom fell into bankruptcy in 2002 when revelations about its accounting practices came to light. It emerged last April under the name MCI. — New York Law Journal

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