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Thursday, June 21, 2012 - 11:13am

Open Court Debate Sparks Lawsuit

Southern Center for Human Rights announced it is suing three Georgia judges and two local sheriffs.

The lawsuit names Superior Court Judges John Pridgen, Robert Chasteen, Jr., and T. Christopher Hughes, Crisp County Sheriff Donnie Haralson, and Ben Hill County Sheriff Bobby McLemore.

It says they barred some defendants' loved ones from attending court proceedings.

“The First, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments guarantee open courtrooms,” says attorney Gerald Weber with the Southern Center for Human Rights. “Day in and day out, families and loved ones of criminal defendants appearing in Ben Hill and Crisp counties are relegated to crowded jail lobbies even though there are empty seats in the courtrooms where the fate of their family member will be decided. Each time the courtroom door opens, families crowd around, peering in and hoping to catch a glimpse of their jailed son, daughter, or grandchild. This secrecy is not allowed in the American justice system.”

None of the defendants named in the lawsuit were willing to respond on the record.

The lawsuit is the second involving SCHR. In 2003, SCHR challenged closed jail courtrooms on behalf of the NAACP.