WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court, acting in a Southern California case, agreed today to decide whether the right of the public and news media to attend criminal trials over a defendant's objection applies to pretrial hearings.
The court said it will hear arguments that news reporters and others were wrongly excluded from a 41-day pretrial hearing for a male nurse later convicted of killing 12 hospital patients in 1981.
The closed hearings conducted in the case of Robert Rubane Diaz were challenged by the Riverside Press-Enterprise, the newspaper whose court fight led to the Supreme Court's ruling last year that the public and news media have a right to attend jury selection proceedings in criminal trials.
The court in 1980 ruled for the first time that the public and the news media have a constitutional right to attend criminal trials. The court said judges may conduct trials, or portions of them, in secret only as a last resort to ensure fairness and only after telling why such steps are necessary.