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California Court Denies Public Trial for Camera Tickets
Corona, California courthouse closes the door to the public and media interested in attending trials.

Corona courthouse sign
Members of the public are not allowed to attend red light camera trials and other proceedings at the Superior Court of California courthouse in the city of Corona. For the past several weeks a policy has been place denying entry to anyone without a direct involvement in a specific case scheduled that day. Court security verifies this information before allowing entrance into the building.

"Please be advised that this court facility is closed to the general public," a sign posted at the door states. "The facility conducts criminal trials Monday through Friday and only jurors, witnesses and associated trial personnel are permitted to enter. On Fridays, the facility is also open for litigants reporting for court trial on traffic or minor offense matters."

Attorney R. Allen Baylis was stopped earlier this week on his way in to a red light camera case. He believes the court had no legal right to deny admittance to the general public.

"It just blows my mind that anyone would even think about doing that," Baylis told TheNewspaper. "They should know better."

The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution states that the accused shall enjoy the right to a "speedy and public" trial. The 1980 US Supreme Court case of Richmond Newspapers, Inc. v. Virginia confirmed the right of the public to attend trials is fundamental to the legal system. It found the First Amendment would be meaningless if members of the press were prevented from reporting on cases before the judicial branch.

"Criminal trials both here and in England had long been presumptively open," then-Chief Justice Warren E. Burger wrote for the court. "This is no quirk of history; rather, it has long been recognized as an indispensable attribute of an Anglo-American trial. Both Hale in the 17th century and Blackstone in the 18th saw the importance of openness to the proper functioning of a trial; it gave assurance that the proceedings were conducted fairly to all concerned, and it discouraged perjury, the misconduct of participants, and decisions based on secret bias or partiality."

In general, only trials involving juveniles or terrorists as defendants are closed after a showing that there is a compelling governmental interest in doing so. Members of the public and the media frequently attend photo enforcement trials to discover and spread the word regarding successful defenses to citations. This has upset court administrators in the past. In 2004, the Los Angeles County court attempted to ban the editor of the website from approaching the courthouse to provide motorists with copies of legal rulings that motorists could cite as a precedent in their own cases.

Baylis intends to review the available legal options to compel the court to open cases to the public.

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