IDAHO FALLS — EastIdahoNews.com joined with a cadre of local, regional and national media Friday in filing a legal objection in the upcoming court proceedings for Chad and Lori Daybell.
The objection is in response to a motion made by Madison County Prosecutor Rob Wood to ban video cameras inside the courtroom in preliminary hearings for the couple. Wood’s motion asked Magistrate Judge Faren Eddins to reconsider his previous order, which allowed cameras to livestream the hearings from inside the courtroom.
The crux of Wood’s argument is that broadcasting the preliminary hearing will make it more difficult to find an unbiased jury in Fremont County. In his motion, Wood acknowledges the defendants have rights to a public hearing and the public has rights when it comes to criminal cases. But he says when it comes time to pick a jury, extra time and effort will have to be made for jurors who have viewed the preliminary hearing.
“The motion is not for a closed or sealed hearing, but simply that the preliminary hearing in this case be treated the same as nearly every other preliminary hearing where there are no video cameras in the courtroom,” Wood wrote.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, if Wood’s motion were approved by Eddins it would effectively close the hearing to the public as a very limited number of people are allowed to attend proceedings in person. Since the pandemic started earlier this year, the Idaho Supreme Court has limited public access to courtrooms and most hearings have been held via livestream with Zoom and YouTube.
Without video cameras, and based on the rules in place by the Idaho Supreme Court, there is no way for the public or media to observe the Daybell hearing if Wood’s motion is approved.
On Friday, EastIdahoNews.com jointly hired Idaho Falls attorney Steve Wright to object to the motion. Other media outlets participating include the Post Register, KIFI Local News 8, KPVI NewsChannel 6, The Idaho Statesman, KIVI Idaho News 6, KSL TV 5, Court TV and NBC News.
In his objection, Wright argues that video cameras are necessary for the public to have access to the court system. He affirms the importance of the public being able to view the hearings to ensure transparency and so they can see that justice is being served.
“When the public is aware that the law is being enforced and the criminal justice system is functioning, an outlet is provided for these understandable reactions and emotions,” the objection states. “The unique and remarkable allegations of this case are the very reason that video coverage of the proceedings is vital.”
Even before COVID-19, EastIdahoNews.com and other outlets have used video cameras to cover high profile cases. Last year, a judge allowed cameras in for the preliminary of Brian L. Dripps, the man accused of killing and raping Angie Dodge. In 2015, EastIdahoNews.com recorded the preliminary hearing for Brian Mitchell, a man accused of murdering another man at an Idaho Falls park.
Wood said that broadcasting the hearing could affect the Daybell’s constitutional right to a fair trial but Wright argues that “the State presents no basis why disallowing video coverage will properly balance the Constitutional rights involved.”
“The State of Idaho’s requested remedy is also drastically disproportionate to the Constitutional burdens it imposes. The State would have the entire country, and world, deprived of a critical instrument to facilitate transparency in order to ensure it is more difficult for the residents of Fremont County to witness the judicial process,” Wright writes. “The State of Idaho seeks to use a sledgehammer where the Constitution requires a scalpel.”
Wright ends his two-page objection by saying that if the hearing is effectively closed, the public loses its Constitutional right to observe the court system in action.
“People in an open society do not demand infallibility from their institutions, but it is difficult for them to accept what they prohibited from observing,” Wright writes.
In addition to the objection filed on behalf of the media, Mark Means, Lori Vallow Daybell’s attorney, and John Prior, Chad Daybell’s attorney, have both filed objections to Wood’s motion. You can view the argument from Means here and Prior’s argument here.
The Daybells are facing felony charges in Fremont County after investigators discovered the remains of 7-year-old Joshua “JJ” Vallow and 16-year-old Tylee Ryan buried in the backyard of Chad’s Salem home. Court records indicate Chad’s hearing will start on Aug. 3 and Lori’s will begin on Aug. 10.
A hearing is scheduled on Wood’s motion for Monday at 2:30 p.m. You can read Wright’s entire motion here.