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Noelle Bush Hearing to Be Open to Public

October 16, 2002|From Associated Press

ORLANDO, Fla. — Gov. Jeb Bush's daughter cannot have her hearing in drug court closed to the public, a judge ruled Tuesday.

Circuit Judge Reginald Whitehead said Florida's drug courts are criminal proceedings and are open to the public. He weighed the patient's right to privacy against the public's right to access to court proceedings.

"Drug court status hearings must be open to all participants so that all participants can observe each other's successes and failures," the judge wrote.

Whitehead scheduled a hearing for Thursday to determine if Noelle Bush, 25, can stay in her drug treatment program or whether she will be returned to the regular criminal justice system.

Attorneys for Bush had asked the judge to close her drug court hearing, arguing that the governor's daughter had the right to expect privacy.

But the Orlando Sentinel and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel argued that drug courts are no different from criminal courts and subject to the same openness.

Bush was put in the drug court system after she was accused of trying to use a forged prescription to buy the anti-anxiety drug Xanax at a pharmacy drive-through window in January. She has been undergoing treatment at a rehabilitation center in Orlando.

Bush was sent to jail for two days in July after center workers found her with prescription pills. Last month, a caller told Orlando police that Bush had a piece of crack cocaine in her shoe, but a judge later ruled that workers at the center cannot be forced to testify in court about Bush's case.

"The judge had to make that determination. All I can tell you is it's a lot harder to deal with drug addictions with these big lights, but it's his court," Bush said at a campaign stop. "The sad fact is, and the good news is, that frankly, cameras and reporters aren't as interested in the other people in drug court, so they have some degree of privacy to be able to cope with their addictions."

Bush said his daughter has not received preferential treatment. "In fact, as a father my concern is to make sure that she's treated as she should be treated and people don't go overboard because of who she is."

He said that, as a father, his daughter's addiction is difficult to handle.

"I see pictures of her when she was 3 or 4 four years old and I vividly remember that," Bush said. "But now she's 25 and the laws apply to her as they apply to anyone else. I just hope the laws apply to her like anybody else."

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