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First Coast News, Times-Union Seek Access to Records in Cristian Fernandez Case

10:06 AM, May 9, 2012   |    comments
Cristian Fernandez
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By Jim Schoettler/The Florida Times-Union

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --  First Coast News and its news partner, The Florida Times-Union, are parties in a court motion seeking to ensure full and timely access to public court records in the case against Cristian Fernandez.

At issue in the motion to intervene filed Monday is the requested release of a detective's deposition presented to Circuit Court Judge Mallory Cooper last month and immediate access to court motions Cooper has sought to review for redactions prior to being published as public records.

Fernandez, 13, is awaiting trial on charges of killing his 2-year-old half brother and the sexual battery of another half-brother. The sexual battery case is set for trial next month, while the murder case is scheduled for trial in September. The controversial cases have generated public interest nationwide primarily because of the state's decision to charge Fernandez as an adult.

Attorney Bill Sheppard, representing the two media parties, said he has been told that Cooper has requested a review of the court motions because of the inadvertent release months ago of confidential records as part of the court file. Sheppard said his review found that it has taken five to 10 days for some motions to be entered into the court file as public records.

The release of public records was raised before Cooper by Fernandez's defense team in February after several motions it filed hadn't appeared on the public court docket until days after they were filed. Officials of the court clerk's office told the Times-Union at the time that Cooper had requested a review of all motions filed in the case.

The February motions, including one in which Cooper granted a request to remove Fernandez's shackles during his court appearances, were entered into the court record the day the defense raised the records access issue with the judge. Cooper's review of other motions has continued.

The deposition in question was presented to Cooper for her review in April as part of a defense motion to re-depose Sheriff's Office detective Mechelle Soehlig. She gave a deposition in the case against Fernandez's mother, Biannela Susana, who pleaded guilty in March to aggravated manslaughter in the death of her son.

The motion to re-depose states that an assistant public defender at the deposition on Fernandez's behalf failed to cover "several areas of substantial importance." It also said the detective was unprepared, having not reviewed and/or brought the file in the Fernandez case.

The Times-Union emailed Cooper requesting a copy of the deposition and several court motions filed the same day, but access to the deposition has not been provided. Sheppard argued in Monday's motion that the deposition is a public record.

Sheppard said that the court should ensure that the media has access to all public records to provide that information immediately to the public.

"The only way you can have a transparent system or process is to immediately let the sun shine in," Sheppard said.

Cooper's judicial assistant said the judge could not comment since the matter is before her and the attorney who filed the motion represents the Times-Union. Prosecutor Mark Caliel and Hank Coxe, an attorney representing Fernandez, declined to comment.

A hearing date for the motion has not been set.

Florida Times-Union, First Coast News

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