To preserve the integrity of our court system, we count on judges to do the right thing. Always.
That's a daunting task, given the complexity of the cases and the law and the opinion of the public.
Recently, Judge Craig Matheson made us proud when he unsealed search warrants related to a robbery that quickly turned deadly last month in Kennewick.
The three surviving men involved have now all been charged in Benton County Superior Court.
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In Matheson's court, the public's right to know outweighed any reason for keeping the documents sealed. Democracy is better served as a result.
"The compelling reason to reopen this file is always there, and that's the public's right to know what the court system is doing, and the case law is replete with reasons for that," Matheson said in his decision.
We couldn't agree more. As journalists and members of the public, we need to have faith in our courts. And we can't do that if there is no transparency in the court's actions.
The search warrants dealt with the timeline of events that led up to the robbery and the fatal shooting of one of the suspects.
Ramon Madrigal shot Tyler Stock in the early hours of Jan. 11 as Stock, who was wearing a mask and armed with a gun, tried to break into Madrigal's home. Stock and his three cohorts reportedly were attempting to steal $70,000 in cash from Madrigal.
Prosecuting Attorney Andy Miller believes Madrigal was justified in shooting Stock because he feared for his safety when Stock forced his front door open.
The three men who investigators believe helped plan and carry out the robbery attempt will be tried next month.
At the start of the investigation into the crime and Stock's death, police asked to have some search warrants sealed.
Early in the process, when disclosure might tip investigators' hands to potential suspects, the request usually is legitimate.
In this case, the documents remained closed even after searches were complete and charges filed. This newspaper objected to defendants' requests to keep the warrants permanently sealed.
Matheson listened to arguments from the defense attorneys regarding the sealed search warrants. Some felt their clients' lives could be at risk if information they had shared with investigators should become public.
Another concern was that the suspects would be tried in the court of public opinion. That's probably already happened, but verdicts aren't handed down in that court.
In the real court, "innocent until proven guilty" still is guaranteed.
Judge Matheson did the right thing by unsealing the search warrants.
It was a win for the public and reinforced our faith in the system.
For the newspaper, it was a victory in principle. The warrants did not reveal much new information about the investigation to reporters. Cell phone records and text messages seem to be the highlights.
Despite the lack of news revealed by the warrants, the victory for the public's right to know remains sweet.
We commend Judge Matheson for upholding the ideals of our legal system.